BELGRADE, Mont. - Sgt. Dustin Lensing is a detective with the Belgrade Police Department. He says he's seen a spike in technology crimes over the last five years.
"It's becoming more and more commonplace," says Lensing.
Just about everyone has access to a computer and children are no different.
"I think every five-year-old knows how to operate a computer these days," says Lensing.
He tells me that kind of accessibility increases the pool of potential victims for predators.
"All of those social networking avenues provide an opportunity for online predators to gain access to children," says Lensing.
He says sometimes predators pretend to be children but other times they "claim to be father figures, help them with their problems and sympathize with them because their parents don't understand," explains Lensing.
Lensing tells me predators are well-versed in befriending children and gaining their trust.
"They claim to take these young children under their wing and help them with situations that their parents might not understand, when all they're really trying to do is gain the child's trust in an effort to exploit them later on," says Lensing.
He says me they often have to be more reactive than proactive but tells me they do make a concerted effort to get online and look for these predators.
The Department of Justice provides law enforcement with a PC exclusively to investigate cases of child exploitation.
Lensing has special undercover chat investigation training through the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and knows how to navigate social media sites to catch predators.
"Our investigators might be a 12-year-old female one day, they might be an 11-year-old male the next day," says Lensing.
I asked Lensing to show me one of his undercover profiles and it didn't take long to find someone interested in talking to a 13-year old girl.
"We don't have to do anything to lure these people, we just have to be there," says Lensing.
That's why he says it's important to educate parents on how to monitor your child's Internet activity.
"We're not saying you have to be a heavy-handed parent, but be aware. Know what your children are doing, know when your children are logging onto the Internet. Know what sites they're logging onto and know who they're talking to," explains Lensing.
For important tips for parents, you can visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids' website and the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force site.
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