The Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force made 49 arrests in March and April, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
When schools across the state began closing in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, the GBI says, investigations into cybersex crimes involving children began to take off.
Cybercrime expert Chris Hamer says, when children are forced to stay at home during a pandemic, "it increases the probability that if something domestic is going wrong, a teacher, a counselor or a friend can’t get involved to put a stop to it.”
The GBI says it received more than 1,000 cybertips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in March and nearly 1,400 cybertips in April. By comparison, in April 2019, the GBI received 587 cybertips from the NCMEC.
“While this new surge in cybertips has not been confirmed to be as a direct result of the COVID-19 quarantine and children being online more, it is certainly believed to be a factor by those heavily involved in this mission,” the GBI said in a news release Thursday. "The cybertips are most often related to child sexual abuse imagery, but are many times also related to the online enticement of children, extortion and child sex trafficking.”
The GBI says the large majority of these cybertips contain information reported to the NCMEC by internet service providers.
“The internet provider was able to take a closer look at something that could have been a message attachment. It could have been a file name. It could have been a sequence of websites they hit without activating their (virtual private network),” Hamer said.
Since March 16, when Georgia schools ended in-person classes, the GBI has arrested 15 people accused of possession, distribution or production of child sexual abuse images. Some of those arrested were also charged with child molestation.
According to the GBI, eight children were rescued from situations in which they were being sexually abused.
The GBI says some of the suspects admitted to investigators that they had numerous undetected victims.
It’s possible additional victims will be discovered and there may be additional arrests, the GBI says.
Additional information related to internet safety education and tips to keep children safe online can be found at visit www.netsmartz.org. If you suspect or have information related to the abuse or exploitation of a child, call your local law enforcement agency or contact the NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST or www.missingkids.org.