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FBI warns of potential increased risk of child exploitation due to COVID-19 related school closures

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Due to increased activity online amid COVID-19 related school closures, children may be at an increased risk of exploitation, the FBI said earlier this week.

“Online sexual exploitation comes in many forms. Individuals may coerce victims into providing sexually explicit images or videos of themselves, often in compliance with offenders’ threats to post the images publicly or send the images to victims’ friends and family,” according to a press release from the FBI.

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The government bureau also discussed how offenders may engage in conversations with children that become more sexual in nature over time, which can sometimes result in children meeting in person with the offender.

While the FBI did not provide data in the press release that indicated more child exploitation was happening during the pandemic, the bureau did provide recommendations to parents and guardians to help keep children safe.

The recommendations included discussing internet safety with kids when they partake in online activities, reviewing and approving apps and games before they’re downloaded, keeping strict privacy settings on electronic devices, as well as monitoring the messages and images that children post to their social media profiles.

The agency also urged parents and guardians to teach their children about body safety and awareness, encourage open communication and to be mindful of the adults monitoring kids during babysitting and other visits. The FBI encourages those who know children who may be the victims of sexual exploitation to contact their law enforcement agency, local FBI field office, or file a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Other government agencies that have issued warnings on potential COVID-19 related crimes include the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which described numerous scam phone call and text messages regarding fake home testing kits or vaccines.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) also warned on Wednesday that those who intentionally try to infect others with COVID-19 could be charged with terrorism.

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