PIKESVILLE, Md. (WJZ) — The Maryland State Police is warning parents and children to remain vigilant while online after an increase in reports of sex exploitation cases.

With more people online due to distance learning, police say tips concerning potential sexual exploitation of children have increased considerably over the past year. As of Dec. 7, state police have received 5,433 cyber tips. This compares to 3,248 such tips for all of 2019.

READ MORE: Concern Growing Over Cherry Trees Long-Term Future As Tidal Basin Floods

“Since they’re online more and the predators go where the children are, the predators have more access to the children,” Joe Dugan, of the Maryland State Police, said.

Dugan, who works in the Computer Crimes Section of the Maryland State Police, said parents need to pay attention to things like their child potentially hiding a device when they walk in the room.

“One of the things we advocate is there should be no devices in the bedroom,” Dugan said. “If there’s a device in the bedroom, the door should be open so the parent can look in once in a while.”

Here’s a breakdown by county:

  • Prince George’s County: 1,036
  • Montgomery County: 862
  • Howard County: 727
  • Baltimore City: 712
  • Baltimore County: 668
  • Anne Arundel County: 344

Nationwide cyber tips have also increase. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 18.43 million cyber tips between Jan. 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2020. NCMEC also recorded 30,236 reports of online enticement of children.

Howard County Police Warn Parents To Watch Out For Online Predators After Several Reports Of Sextortion Of Minors

Online exploitation including sextortion begins with an adult reaching out to someone they believe is a child over the Internet. They then “groom” them to take sexually explicit images or have the child send it to them. They also may try to meet with the child face-to-face and will ultimately sell or trade the photos or video.

READ MORE: Bill On Governor's Desk To Ban Balloon Releases In Maryland

This can happen across social media, messaging apps and gaming platforms.

State police encourage parents to monitor their child’s Internet use on their digital devices, including laptops, tablets, desktop computers and ‘smart’ phones.

Here are some other tips:

  • Continuously monitor all of your child’s online activity
  • Be aware of who your children are communicating with online
  • Talk with your children about online content
  • Remind children to avoid communication with strangers
  • Maintain control of apps downloaded on your child’s device
  • Be aware of what children see and hear and who they meet
  • Know what information your child is sharing

Complaints involving the exploitation of children should be filed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at www.missingkids.com or 1-800-THE-LOST. Complaints of child exploitation may include harassment, cyberbullying, and child pornography. Maryland State Police investigators in the Computer Crimes Unit work closely with NCMEC in the investigation of crimes involving child exploitation. If a child is believed to be in imminent danger, citizens are urged to contact their local police or call 9-1-1 immediately.

The Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit urges people of all ages to take into consideration the vulnerabilities associated with online activity. The Computer Crimes Section operates and administers the Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is comprised of police agencies statewide who work tirelessly to target offenders of child sexual exploitation.

The Task Force’s primary mission continues to be to protect children from computer-facilitated sexual exploitation. This goal is achieved by cooperation between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors as they combine resources to combat these crimes. Additionally, the Task Force also provides community awareness campaigns helping to prevent the spread of these crimes through education.

To learn even more about how parents can protect their children from the dangers in cyberspace, download the latest Maryland State Police podcast with guest Joe Dugan, Internet Safety Specialist with the Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1469332/6837913.

MORE NEWS: Route One Apparel Releases 'BARCS Box' To Help Support Animal Rescue Center

This story was originally published on December 14, 2020.

Sean Streicher