ATLANTA - Sexual predators are turning to extortion on social media sites to get explicit photographs from unsuspecting children.
Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh investigated the aggressive tactics pedophiles are using to lure children and how innocent actions are making them easy targets. Investigators told Kavanaugh that these predators are out there looking for children where they are -- on social media sites.
Many victims are typical teens and tweens who think they are communicating with peers, instead they are getting roped in by highly-skilled criminals.
"You say, it won't happen. You just don't think it will happen, but guess what, it happened," said James Grimsley, a father whose daughter was targeted and victimized by an online predator.
Grimsley said he thought he and his wife were going overboard when it came to monitoring their daughter's online activity.
"Sometimes she would just go and get the computer and say I want passwords, give me passwords. We were doing what we felt was enough," said Grimsley.
Grimsley's daughter, who was 15-years old at the time, fell into sexual predator's trap. As bait, a grown man disguised himself as a teenaged boy in an online profile.
"They're using those tactics to sympathize with them and gain their trust," said Grimsley.
They exchanged phone numbers, then text, then selfies. That is when the predator set his hooks, demanding explicit photographs and video, threatening the teen if she didn't comply.
"I'm gonna have you jumped. I'm gonna blow your house up. I'm gonna kill your parents, I'm gonna kill your brother and sister," said Grimsley as he described the threats his daughter received, "The more she complied the more they wanted."
"And now the exploitation begins," said Brock Nicholson, Special Agent in charge with Homeland Security. Nicholson said child sexual exploitation is an unknown epidemic.
"If you took your child to the Grand Canyon and they walked over to the edge of the cliff, you would make sure they got away from it. I'm telling you that the cliff is the Internet with sexual predators," said Nicholson describing the threat, saying that predators are becoming insatiable.
"These guys start out looking at pictures, then they want to be part of the pictures," said Nicholson.
Undercover agents with Immigrations Customs Enforcement recently arrested Carl Skow after he allegedly attempted to rent a 14-year old girl for a year. Skow planned to make the girl a personal sex slave.
"I was thinking about going and getting her a bike for her birthday," said Skow in an undercover video made right before his arrest.
"This isn't something that we made up that we put out there, this was something that he was seeking," said Nicholson.
Skow is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.
"These guys are out there are and they are looking for your children," said Nicholson.
To combat this escalating epidemic, Project iGuardian was launched, a first-of-its-kind national cyber safety campaign spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The campaign seeks to education children and their parents on how to be smart when navigating the Web and to stay safe from online predators. More on the program can be found here: http://www.ice.gov/cyber-crimes/iguardian.htm
Grimsley's daughter was one of 16 victims of Tremain Hutchinson, now serving a life sentence for coercing minors to produce child pornography. In four cases, it escalated to rape.
"There is a tremendous psychological manipulation with threats," said Dr. Jordan Greenbaum.
Greenbaum takes over where law enforcement leaves off, providing medical and psychological care to victims of sexual abuse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
"If the child has had nude photos taken of her, that alone can keep her under control," said Greenbaum.
"No matter how shameful, how embarrassed or how scared you may be, because a lot of times, that's the fear factor, go to somebody," said Grimsley.
Grimsley said after just two weeks of manipulating his daughter, the predator carried out one of his treats. He sent one of the lewd photos to her family. Grimsley turned to the police, so he couldn't do this to another unsuspecting child.
"You deal with the embarrassment, you're putting this out there, but you saved a life. She is safe, that's the key. Another child is safe," said Grimsley.
Greenbaum said many victims out there have no risk factors. They come from good homes. She said predators do not discriminate.