Neighborhood NewsHelena - Lewis and Clark County


Protecting children from internet crimes

Posted at 10:08 AM, Apr 23, 2024

HELENA — For kids, summer can mean one thing: no school.

But that can also mean less supervision and more screen time.

I spoke with law enforcement to see how parents can keep their children safe online.

Detective Cody Colbert took over leading the Internet Crimes Against Children task force for the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office in March.

Since then, he has received nine tips about internet crimes involving children.

"They're kids. They don't understand the gravity of what they're doing online. [They] don't understand that those images stay online and are very hard to remove," said Colbert.

He says that most crimes happen over social media, like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok.

Children are also targeted on online games, like Call of Duty or Roblox.

Colbert said, "Cases are just growing. Especially with the community growing and getting a larger outreach. More kids, more people coming in, the number of cases are going to go up."

The regional FBI saw eight reported cases of crimes against children in 2023, which resulted in a total loss of nearly $10,000.

Sextortion cases seem to be the most prominent.

Sextortion messages

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dustin Grant says this crime typically involves a young man who sent explicit images to someone posing as a friend or acquaintance.

"Parents that think, 'That's not going to be my kid.' the statistics show that your kid is going to be contacted by somebody that wants to do them harm. 100%," said Grant.

The scammer will then threaten to release the photos publicly if the victim does not send money or more photos.

Even if the youth complies with the request, the scammer will release the photos anyway or demand more money.

Grant said, "A lot of these kids aren't telling folks about what's happening to them while it's occurring. We have instances of suicide and other mental health issues that are associated with it."

Most of those soliciting the images are from outside the United States, so prevention is critical.

FBI Sextorition

"I would suggest to parents to open that dialogue with their kids," said Colbert.

Grant said, "It's not [that] you might see it. You're going to see it. You're going to have contact with these individuals, [and] you need to immediately block them.'"

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has educational resources like comprehensive videos made for different age groups explaining possible online dangers to kids.

An internet crimes against children public service announcement from the FBI can be found here.

You can submit a tip to the FBI here or call the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office non-emergency number at (406) 447-8235.