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The FBI is warning of sexual predators in online gaming. Parents can take these steps to better protect kids

When it comes to video games, not every ‘friend’ is real and not every player is there to have fun. The FBI is reminding parents that sexual predators are often online with those children

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The FBI is reminding parents that sexual predators are often online with children who play video games.

In this June 14, 2018, photo, the FBI seal is seen before a news conference at FBI headquarters in Washington.

Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

Federal Bureau of Investigation New York intelligence analyst Chris Travis noticed a pattern of sexual predators using online gaming as a method to contact and groom young people. It hit home when Travis realized his own young son (who loves to play video games) was potentially being exposed to this behavior.

The analyst says the subjects would initially contact kids through online chats and then get them to move their communication over to another social media platform for more access.

Special Agent Pao Fisher said suspects explained they would usually pose as a child of similar age and would then pressure kids to send photos, possibly innocent ones at first, but escalating into more compromising images, the FBI reports. The suspects would then threaten to tell the victim’s parents or post the questionable photos online.

While there may not be a way to completely protect kids from stranger danger online, there are parental controls for most major gaming consoles that can minimize the risk.

How to set parental controls for gaming consoles

Nintendo Switch has a parental controls mobile app where you can limit the sharing of in-game text, voice communication or images. Mom or dad will need to set up a Nintendo account to access the settings and should set up a PIN number that is required to change any of those settings. Be aware that the same restrictions will apply to everyone who uses the system since they cannot be set for individual users. Nintendo suggests setting restrictions with the youngest player in mind. 

PlayStation 5 also requires parents to have their own account to become the family manager. Make sure to set a passcode for the system by going to Settings>Users and Accounts>Login Settings, so kids can’t change the settings. PlayStation allows parents to set controls from the console or straight from the web, but for those restrictions to work, younger users will have to complete their email verification and be signed in to the PlayStation Network on the console. Parents can choose to restrict communication and user-generated content. The pre-set limitations on the console for late teens do not have that restriction, although communication is restricted if you choose the pre-set for early teens or child users.

On a web browser, after signing in to Family Management, parents can select their kids’ individual accounts to set customized restrictions. Parents can also go to PSN Privacy Settings to choose from preset options. “Social and Open” means any player can communicate with you and see profile information. “Team Player” allows others to see most profile information, but they can’t invite you to chat. “Friend Focused” only shows friends your information and only friends can invite you to chat. “Solo and Focused” means no one can see profile information or invite you to chat.

On the Microsoft Xbox Series X, parents should create a family group either online or through the Xbox Family Settings app to personalize each child’s restrictions. Go to Settings>Account>Privacy & Online Safety for a lot of options. Mom and dad can decide whether kids are allowed to join multiplayer online games, create and join clubs, broadcast their gameplay, add friends and chat. Parents can also place limits on who can communicate with their child, who can see what their child watches or plays and what information others can see. If parents do decide to allow communication, there is also a restriction for Message Safety which filters offensive words and images.

In an effort to get more public awareness and kick off a broader conversation among community members, FBI New York has launched the “It’s Not a Game” campaign. Parents can use a YouTube video the FBI put together to start communication with their kids about why restrictions are necessary.

Bill Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI New York Office, says it’s not practical to keep kids completely off video games, but parents can set parameters and learn the security settings on devices. 

“If you lock your doors at night to protect your family from an intruder, you should be locking down your computer,” Sweeney says in the video. 

Parents can do their homework about these consoles’ parental controls so kids can enjoy the video games they love, but without so much risk.