‘Technology changes constantly’: Catawba County Schools, deputies investigate two potential child exploitation cases

Kids targeted by inappropriate Zoom calls in Catawba County

CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - The Catawba County Sheriff’s Office and Catawba County School district are warning parents and students after two students were allegedly contacted by people trying to exploit them over the internet.

Deputies and school officials say two students were recently contacted on their Chromebook through chatrooms linked to internet-based gaming sites.

Officials say they gave the students a link and invited them to a Zoom meeting where they attempted to exploit the students by soliciting inappropriate images and videos.

An important message from Sheriff Don Brown, in conjunction with Catawba County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Matt Stover:

Posted by Catawba County Sheriff's Office on Sunday, February 21, 2021

Ever since the incidents were discovered, authorities have been sifting through websites and other areas online trying to identify “holes in the security system,” said Investigator James Styers.

Styers was working on Tuesday to be sure any avenues for trouble are closed for the children.

“Technology changes constantly and there are thousands of new websites every day,” Styers said.

Sheriff’s Captain Aaron Turk said it’s believed the online predators may have been from out of state and possibly international.

Federal authorities have been notified.

Turk said it is fortunate that schools “monitor virtual learning every day.”

He hopes parents will double down on efforts to know what their children are doing online.

Any suspicious activity should be reported immediately, he said, to the schools and to authorities.

School Superintendant Dr. Matt Stover sent a letter to parents informing them of the situation and saying that internet security is a priority and that most google and Zoom sites are being blocked.

He also urged parents to closely monitor the internet activity of their children on any device that connects to it.

Now, deputies and school leaders are working together to “minimize the potential for further targeting of students.”

“Catawba County Schools and the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office are issuing this joint message to remind parents of the importance of monitoring your child’s online activities whether using Chromebooks, home computers, laptop computers, cellphones or any other device,” a joint statement read.

Officials say that if your child is contacted by the internet by someone they don’t know, they need to tell their children not to start any conversation with them, and then notify a school administrator or School Resource Officer.

Tips for keeping children safe on the internet:

  • Do not allow your child to have unsupervised access to devices capable of accessing the internet.
  • Devices, when not in use, should be stored, charged and located in a specific area.
  • Students should not communicate with anyone online that they do not personally know.
  • Students should not access (click on) any link forward to them from an unknown source.
  • It is encouraged that parents filter any services for their home internet to help monitor their child’s activity.

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