Internet crimes that exploit children are on the rise as more children use online apps, making them vulnerable to predators, central Iowa authorities said.
Police arrested Lonnie Wilcox, 48, of Ankeny, this week after they say he downloaded child pornography.
The Iowa Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force helped capture Wilcox, who is the latest person in central Iowa to be charged with a crime against children.
“Children are the most vulnerable, and it’s easy to get passionate about these cases when you have children,” said Nate McLaren, special agent in charge with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
McLaren leads the task force, which is based out of the Des Moines Area Community College campus in Ankeny. It’s made up of state and federal officers from more than 100 agencies.
“The numbers are up over the last 10 years, over 1,000 percent for the cases we receive,” McLaren said.
Last month, the task force, which works with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, received 150 tips. In years past, it only received about a dozen a month.
McLaren attributes the uptick in crime to an internet-driven society in which there are more children online, which gives predators a greater chance to target them for sex or pornographic images.
“Individuals know the anonymity of the internet,” McLaren said. “They can be whoever they want to be, and they can contact children. They’ll be in applications, games, start chatting with each other.”
The task force uses high-tech systems to trace IP addresses and pull information from social media using so-called right blocking.
The best way to protect your children is to monitor what they’re doing online, McLaren said.
“Talk to them abut what games they’re on, who they’re talking to. Turn chat features off, turn follow features off,” he said.
If you have any information about a cybercrime against a child, contact the national center anonymously at 1-800-THE-LOST.