TBI report uptick in cyber crimes, urge parents to be vigilant during remote learning

TENNESSEE — A warning for parents as sexual predators are finding new ways to prey on children.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) tracked an uptick in cybercrimes since the pandemic started in March.

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With several districts including Shelby County Schools reopening virtually, agents want to make sure parents are keeping a close on what they’re kids are doing online.

“It can only take a few steps to get from a virtual school to an escort ad,” said TBI Director David Rausch.

As families adjust to a more virtual lifestyle because of COVID-19, Director Rausch said sexual predators are doing the same.

“These are not just big-city issues, we are seeing efforts to exploit children in both the urban and rural areas all across our state,” he said.

Rausch said the agency has gotten more than 450 cybercrime tips so far, this year.

He said TBI and the Tennessee Department of Education are developing a plan for a stronger cybersecurity during online learning. He said they’ve added more agents to this division too.

Related: Shelby County Health Department will not release lists of campuses with COVID-19 cases

But in the meantime, Rausch said parents must be vigilant.

“Just as you wouldn’t let strangers into your home, or certainly your children’s bedroom, you shouldn’t let cybercriminals into your home through phones or other screen sources,” he said.

Rausch said a child’s computer should be in a public part of the house and not their bedroom or the bathroom, plus parents should take advantage of those parental control features.

He said parents should also read over chatroom conversations to make sure they know who is on the other end and what their kids are sending.

“Our agents have seen children as young as 5 years old taking photos of themselves and at the direction of someone they communicated with online,” said Rausch.

If you see something questionable on your kid’s phone, laptop or search history, TBI agents say don’t delete it! They said to take a screenshot of it, keep the chat history and don’t communicate with whoever is on the other end and then contact the police.

Parents can send tips to TIPSTOTBI@TN.GOV.