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As the constant connection and flow of information provided by the Internet continues to grow, so does the danger faced by children, teens, and adults online. Online predators find their victims using social media, chat rooms, and other modes of communication and can make Internet users wary of being online for fear of being targeted. However, the Internet also contains several websites and articles highlighting the common tactics online predators use to lure their victims and steps on how to avoid them. “Grooming” is a term for the methods used by a predator to gain his or her victim’s trust to exploit them. Here are a few common grooming methods.

Excessive Flattery

According to internetsafety101.org, predators often use compliments to gain their victim’s trust. By validating the victim’s feelings and catering to their insecurities, the predator’s constant flattery manipulates the victim into thinking they can be trusted. An article on familyshare.com mentions that predators may also send their victims numerous gifts not only to gain trust, but also personal information, such as an address. Giving out personal information on the Internet is always risky, but especially when speaking to a stranger.

Validation

Predators often target victims who feel lonely and unheard. The predator will then agree with the victim on every topic so that they seem to be the only one who truly understands and cares for the victim, according to both internetsafety101.org and familyshare.com. This allows the predator to ensure the victim’s trust and their isolation from their loved ones, leading to secrecy and deception. After making sure the victim feels alone, the predator can advance their plans. Having a trustworthy group of friends and family can prevent a potential victim from feeling as though they have no one else that cares for them besides the predator.

Promises of Romance or a Fake Relationship

Both familyshare.com and internetsafety101.org agree that predators often play to a victim’s sense of romance, sexual curiosity, or desire for a relationship. Predators will promise their victims a romantic relationship and then ask for favors such as sending explicit photos or videos or meeting up in person. Because of their “relationship”, the victim usually feels obligated to deliver the favor to keep their “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”.

Intimidation/Blackmail

According to internetsafety101.org and familyshare.com, victims usually find it difficult to leave a “relationship” with a predator because of threats made by the predator. After receiving the explicit photos or videos of the victim, the predator will use it against them to keep them in the relationship.

The amount of time a predator spends grooming their victim varies. It is important to also learn the different goals of predators. Internetsafety101.org says that most predators’ main goal is to meet up with their victims and engage in inappropriate activities with them. The type of predator encountered will determine the course of the destructive relationship.

Finally, all Internet users can benefit from learning how to protect themselves from online predators as much as possible. A few tips can help keep Internet use safe.

Avoid sharing personal information

Personal information gives predators intimate access to a victim’s life. Unless you trust the source you are giving information to or you know the person you are talking to in person, avoid giving away your personal information whenever possible.

Be aware of children’s Internet activity

Remind children of the dangers of the Internet and make sure they know what to do if they are ever uncomfortable or confused about a situation. Since predators often try to make the victim feel isolated, create an environment where children can speak openly about their troubles and feelings so that they know they can trust their family and friends. This can not only prevent the predator from gaining access to the child’s feelings, but also allow the child to share any concern they have with their family before a potential danger escalates.

Parents can also make sure that their children are not completely alone when using the Internet. Placing a family computer in a common space, such as a living room, will help parents keep a watchful eye over their young children’s online activity. As for older children and teenagers, parents can frequently communicate with their children about what they are doing online but should remember that a child may not always be truthful about their activity, especially if they are engaged in something that might be dangerous. Establishing rules, parental controls, and privacy settings on children’s devices can also help with potential dangers.

Understand what a healthy relationship looks like

Predators usually manipulate and control their victims but make it seem like a loving relationship. Learn the warning signs of an abusive relationship and compare that to any relationship you have, especially any relationships with strangers you have met on the Internet. Don’t be afraid to end a relationship that seems abusive and then seek support from trusted friends and family.

It is important for Internet users to constantly be prepared for the dangers they face online.

For more information and support, visit www.internetsafety101.org