Investigators have long trolled Internet chat rooms, posing as children, in hopes of catching child predators who might be seeking contact with potential victims. But video features on gaming systems give those adults a new tool, allowing them to confirm that there is a real child, not a policeman, on the other end. Phil Rogers reports.
Video games offer children the best of both worlds: Thrills which are very real, coupled with dangers which are supposed to only be an illusion. But a suburban Chicago father says he discovered his son’s video console had an unexpected and disturbing feature.
“I bought something I thought was going to bring joy to my family,” he said. “And I brought a pedophile into my house.”
The man asked that we withhold his name, to protect his son. He told NBC Chicago that shortly after he bought the family a new Xbox Kinect, he heard a man’s voice coming from the game’s speakers while his son was playing a game in an adjoining room. When he rounded the corner, he said he was shocked at what had just appeared onscreen.
"There was an image of a man, a live image, of a man standing there naked," he said. "He was doing things to himself."
Like other systems, the Kinect has a video feature which allows players to interact with others on the web. The man said he frantically began disconnecting anything which gave his children access to the Internet.
"I directly unplugged it from the Internet connection," he said. "I took my other son's [system] off the Internet connection, even though it wasn’t the Kinect, and at that time, I called the police station.”
Investigator Doug Kein with the Orland Park Police Department says he learned that what the father witnessed was not an isolated incident with the child.
"This was a friend request," Kein said. "The individual friend requested him, and said I want to be your friend. He then accepted the request."
"There were multiple individuals he had conversations with. Inappropriate conversation and exposure occurred."
The incident reveals a frightening new challenge for police and parents alike. Investigators have long trolled Internet chat rooms, posing as children, in hopes of catching child predators who might be seeking contact with potential victims. But video features on gaming systems give those adults a new tool, allowing them to confirm that there is a real child, not a policeman, on the other end.
"Any time there’s a forum where children are at, predators are going to go to those areas," says the FBI’s Wesley Tagtmeyer. "People that are looking to meet children, this is what they do."
"As good of a special agent as I hope I am, they spend their whole day learning these technologies, and learning ways to try to meet children. We’re always striving to try to keep up with them."
Game makers contend that if parental controls are set properly, outsiders can’t make inappropriate contact with kids. The FBI warns, however, that if parents want to block access completely, they should think twice about enabling the Internet features which have made newer gaming systems so appealing.
"Many of these gaming consoles, including the handheld ones, many of them have that camera technology and capability which parents can disable if they choose to do so," Tagtmeyer said. "Any time a gaming console, be it handheld or not, is connected to the Internet, you have that possibility of the child communicating either text, or if they have a gaming console with video, they can connect and communicate with potential strangers or individuals looking to meet them and do them harm.”
Earlier this year, a New York man was charged with sexually abusing a 12 year old boy he met through the chat feature on an Xbox gaming system. In that case, prosecutors said the two chatted using their game consoles for three months, before the suspect, 19-year-old Richard Kretovic, persuaded the boy to come to his house.