KANSAS CITY (KSNT) – With the school year starting up, it’s a good time to remind parents and students about the dangers of speaking with strangers online.

27 News met up with Homeland Security Investigations in Kansas City to find out what is being done to combat child exploitation in our community, and what dangers the upcoming school year could hold.

“Throughout the agency as a whole we use both our domestic and international footprint to target and apprehend any individuals who are exploiting children,” Homeland Security Investigations KC Scott Titus said. “What we’ve been finding lately is a large uptick in online predator activity using social media apps and programs like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, targeting underage minor children.”

Earlier this month, a Missouri high school teacher was sentenced to 30 years for a sextortion scheme following an HSI investigation. The teacher portrayed himself as a teenager through social media apps, blackmailing 11 identified child victims with pornographic images and videos. Over the summer, HSI executed Operation Blue Ghost.

“During that operation we conducted in two parts,” Titus said. “One part was in Wichita, one part was in the Kansas City metro area. In the two parts, we arrested 32 different individuals that were traveling for the exploitation of a minor.”

Not only is the issue all around us, it’s becoming more common.

“We are finding more people using these applications and creating fake profiles,” Titus said, “using those profiles to extort young people to either create or send them underage child sexual abuse material.” 

Heading into the school year, that worry is increased as schools give out internet accessible devices for classwork.

“Some of those digital devices can be controlled by lockdown, but some are not,” Titus said. “Some schools are giving the kids, children, whether they’re teens or high school kids more access then they had in the past. Some schools are still doing the virtual online stuff, so as a parent it’s very important to see what’s happening. Online bullying is a big thing, cyber stalking is a big thing, it’s something parents need to be aware of as they go back.” 

For parents, keeping an eye out for your child by being involved and talking about internet safety can make a huge difference. If you believe your child is in a situation involving exploitation, Titus recommends reaching out to local law enforcement or the HSI hotline at 866-347-2423.