Missouri works to keep online predators away from children

JOPLIN, Mo. Keeping online predators away from your kids is becoming increasingly difficult. Missouri has stepped up their efforts to fight those cyber threats.

Most of us are familiar with websites and applications like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Kids are too. They use them to socialize. They're also are feeding grounds for online predators.

Investigators with the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force are part of a larger network, the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. They aggressively work to keep kids safe online no matter which website or application they use.

"If your child is using an application or on a website you should be mindful that there's probably a predator also on that application, doesn't matter what it is. These individuals that have a sexual interest in children, they're going to place themselves in close proximity to our children," explains Detective Chip Root.

He is one of the investigators working out of the Joplin Police Station. They have to stay up to date with the latest changes in technology to keep your kids safe.

He says, "Some of these apps are meant for the privacy, some sort of security for their user, however these internet predators know how to manipulate that and use it for their own evil doings, if you will."

This often ends in tragedy.

"We have worked multiple investigations where a kiddo just disappears, with no trace," says Root.

Detectives comb though all types of evidence like phones, compact discs and computers.

"I try not to scare people from the internet. I like equate it to a kitchen knife. You can't do anything in the kitchen without a knife but if you're not careful it will cut you," says Root.

As these crimes grow so does the task force.

Root says, "We were really doubtful there'd even be enough work to keep a person busy and now we've exploded, nine years later, to having 11 full time members. It's more work than we can even keep up with."

He has this advice for parents.

"They're our children, they're not our friends. It's our job to take care of them so be nosy. They do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy," says Root.

He suggests to be on the lookout for changes in your child's behavior. Also, a large amount of virtual friends, many they may not know.

Also be sure to watch out for any extravagant gifts or money they may receive. Root says this may be a sign your child is being groomed by a predator.

Root suggests that you through your child's device regularly to check their online presence and activity.

"For us it's all about trying, just keep at it every day. Hopefully find these folks before something really bad happens or a kiddo disappears. I think that we've been very successful over the years," he says.

The Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force is part of a larger network covers 22 counties, including most of the Ozarks. It started with one detective nine years ago. It's now up to 11.

The task force often works with local law enforcement, providing the technology needed to build cases against child predators.