Police say Instagram has become most used site for child predators

Published: Mar. 7, 2019 at 10:58 AM EST
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(3/8/2019) - Social media is constantly changing and as parents it can be hard to keep up.

While they may have mastered one platform, chances are kids are already onto something else.

It's simple to use too. Just create a user name, find a profile picture and they can become anyone they want to be on social media.

"Young people don't think about the stuff that's going on out there. In their mind, it's just them and their friends," said Michigan State Police Trooper Steven Kramer. "They don't realize the reality of the criminal element that is out there using the same platforms that they are."

Michigan State Police say recently Instagram has become the No. 1 social media site to find predators lurking behind each click.

"Facebook used to be the real popular social media gathering place. The younger generation has now switched over to Instagram," Kramer said.

Many predators have followed suit.

"They're just following whatever their potential victims are using. If I'm looking for a certain profile of victim and their not using Facebook, then I'm not using Facebook anymore either," Kramer said.

Instagram is a little different than Facebook. Each profile is full of pictures with captions. But just like Facebook it's easy to find anyone

"Anyone can search, anyone can look through information, and then they're just accepting follow requests," Kramer said. "It's really easy to lie about who you are on these social media applications."

Kramer said that's exactly what predators are doing -- adopting a completely new identity.

"Their profile will be set up to be something that their victim would be interested in," he said. "If they're targeting a female, maybe they'll use another female. If they're targeting a male, maybe using another male or another female they think the victim would be into. Anything to get their attention and then the groom work starts."

Grooming them to believe the facade they're putting on Instagram.

"Seemingly innocent chat to start with. Just asking the questions, what school do you go to? What grade are you in? Things like that," Kramer said.

With that simple information, it doesn't take long for a predator to locate their victim.

"That's the thing about social media, it doesn't have any boundaries or borders," Kramer said. "If I'm a predator, I'm going to take my victim where I can get them. If I have to drive three or four hours to get to them, so be it."

Just a few weeks ago, police say 33-year-old Scott Janner posed as a teen online and drove 20 hours to meet up with a 13-year-old girl in Saginaw County.

Luckily, parents and police got involved leading to the man's arrest. Troopers say people like the Kansas man charged in this case are being seen online more than many people may think.

"They'll travel, they'll groom," Kramer said. "Sometimes that grooming process, they'll take their time with it because they have 20 or 30 other ones that they're grooming also."

Despite parents wanting to trust their children online, Kramer said it's time to at least start a conversation about what's happening on social media sites.

"It's not so much a privacy thing. It just takes a skim over," Kramer said. "The younger the individual, the less life experience they have to realize this is wrong and a scam that's going on."

Troopers say the best thing to do is keep accounts private and only accept follow requests from friends or family. Anyone who suspects someone of a having a fake account should report them to Instagram and, in some cases, law enforcement.

Instagram does have a section on their websites for parents to learn more about the app and how to keep your children safe while on it.