Strangers and Predators Online

In Brief

Kids can easily encounter predators online; and predators know the places kids hang out online and how to develop online relationships with them. In this section, we cover the patterns typical of online predators, the likely places where kids can encounter them, how you can minimize the risks of your child becoming a victim, and how to respond if you sense that your child is being targeted by an online predator.


Chances are that your child will never be the victim of an online predator.  However, that doesn't mean that you or your kids should be naive.  You and your kids need to be smart about the reality today. 

We live in a networked, social world.  Therefore the "places" where kids can encounter strangers online is becoming increasingly complex.  Online services and technologies are often "faceless".  It's this online "anonymity" that makes technology an attractive vehicle for predators. 

It can be easy for kids to build relationships and develop trust with those they talk with online.  Predators know this.  They will use that anonymity to pretend to be something or someone that they aren't just to develop relationships with kids. 

Hopefully you've already talked with your kids about the dangers of strangers.  However, no matter how much you think you've talked about the topic of strangers and predators with your kids, the reality is that kids are oftentimes naive and can be duped by bad people who use social engineering tricks.  As part of your parenting toolkit, you need to know how online predators work, the places where kids can potentially meet strangers online, and what to do if you feel that your child is being targeted. 

Patterns of Online Predators

Online predators tend to follow certain behavioral patterns to find kids.  As parents, you need to know some of these tendencies.  In general, online predators will tend to:

  1. Find places where kids are.  With today's technology, this means social networks, chat rooms, blogs, email, message boards and forums, IM, and any place where they can interact with kids.
  2. Search Profiles.  Kids profiles on social network sites often include photos of themselves, their gender, age, and where they live.  Kids who make it a point to provide detailed profiles are providing predators with the information they are looking for.
  3. Seduce.  Online predators will try to get attention, sympathy, and affection from kids.  It's not uncommon for targeted kids to even receive physical gifts as part of this.
  4. Learn about kids' interests.  Predators will know about the latest movies, music, viral videos, hobbies, and other things that kids will be interested in.
  5. Be their Friend.  It may seem odd, but predators will make an effort to listen and sympathize with problems and issues that kids may be dealing with.
  6. Gradually build to sexual content.  Predators will gradually introduce sexual conversations, photos, and videos to try and break down kids' inhibitions.
  7. Evaluate.  Using the mechanisms above, online predators will often start to evaluate which kids they will attempt to meet in person.

Places where kids can meet strangers online

There are some "places" in the digital world where kids are more likely to come into contact with strangers and predators.  The online services parents need to be most careful with are chat rooms, message boards and forums, social networking sites, instant messaging, and email.  These aren't the only services, however. 

Mobile phone and computer apps and games have multiplayer capabilities over the Internet.  It's easy and common for kids to invite a complete stranger to be an opponent (or on the same team) with them.  Networked apps and games oftentimes have chat rooms and other features that predators could use.  Therefore, don't assume that the seemingly innocent game that you allow your child to play isn't also capable of connecting your kids to complete strangers.

How to minimize the Risk to your Kids

There are a number of proactive steps to take with your kids.  We suggest you think about the following in your family:

Tips kids should know to avoid predators and strangers

Kids should have the right smarts when it comes to avoiding predators and strangers online.  Here are some general tips that all kids should know:

What to do if you feel your child is being targeted

Thinking that your child is being targeted by a predator can be absolutely terrifying.  However, there are recommended steps to take if you feel that this is, in fact, the case:

Additional Resources to Protect Against Online Predators

A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety:

Microsoft's Family Safety Center: