Did your child fall into slavery?

Don’t assume that an innocent game cannot become a vehicle for sordid preditors, and reassure your children that even when they make mistakes, you’ll always have their back and be there to help them out no matter what


Slavery is an alien concept to most of us. We consider it a dark chapter of human history that closed many decades ago. Yet, there are many victims of slavery these days, and some of them might be closer to us than we think. I’m not talking here about metaphoric slavery, like the attachment to digital devices, but the real one, which can harm and affect the well-being of our loved ones for the rest of their lives. Let me delve further into the issue.

When we give our children a mobile device, tablet or any other digital means through which they can connect to the internet, we are automatically exposing them to various dangers. Remember, they do not understand how the real world works. Even though we warn them, their notion of good and evil is still forming, and they might not recognise suspicious threats. Furthermore, don’t forget that cybercriminals go to great lengths to conceal their movements until, most of the time, it is too late to turn back. Young children are also easily influenceable, thus, making them effortless prey for these predators.

To understand what I mean, imagine taking your underage child and leaving him in a dodgy area of town where illicit activity is rampant. No one would do that, yet we are comfortable giving them a digital device that opens a window over the world. It lets them go anywhere they like, even in these dangerous zones. We should wake up and realise what we’re allowing to happen before it is too late. Let me illustrate how easy it is for vulnerable children to fall inside the rabbit hole.

A child is playing online through his favourite game. Suddenly, he receives a chat request from LittleTom, someone he doesn’t know. But LittleTom seems like a reference to a boy, a child of probably similar age, so he doesn’t think twice and accepts the request. LittleTom starts a conversation on very innocent things. He relates his day at school, how he fought with his best mate and how sad he was feeling at that moment. Of course, everyone exposed to such conversation would feel pity for him, so the conversation continued. But LittleTom seems like a helpful person too; he even helped him with his homework!

As the chat proceeds, the children exchanges more personal information like the siblings’ names, where they live, which school they attend, etc. Since they’ve become such good friends after talking for a few minutes, LittleTom decides to share something cool with his new buddy, so he sends him a link. As soon as the child presses the link, a prompt pops up where he has to enter his Microsoft Teams password. There’s nothing strange there; he’s used to it now after all those online lessons! He logs in, but the system asks him to install an update and won’t allow him to proceed before he does it. So he presses “Ok”.

What just happened here? LittleTom first used his social engineering skills to befriend the child. He played the sympathy card by relating a sad story that anyone can relate to. Then he even helped him with his homework difficulties, thus gaining his trust. So when LittleTom shared the link, the boy didn’t think twice about clicking it. The Microsoft Teams interface was fake, a kind of cyberattack called phishing where the cybercriminal gets hold of the username and password of the child. Now LittleTom gained access to the child’s school records. His details, address, friends, school, grades, practically everything. The update was a scam, too; it installed a Trojan, a virus that gives LittleTom access to the child’s computer. By doing so, he also acquired access to the child’s photos, videos, and digital secrets.

From now on, LittleTom has two options. If he finds something compromising, even just a photo in a swimsuit, he’ll use those to threaten the child with sharing them online. Otherwise, he’ll resort to violence, telling him that he knows his address and will hurt his loved ones. The child knows that he shouldn’t have spoken with strangers, so he automatically feels in trouble. Furthermore, he doesn’t want anything bad to happen to his family, so he plays along.

Officially, the child becomes enslaved. The requests from LittleTom start slowly with innocent shots up to full nude pictures, some of which even portray sexual acts. And the more photos the child send, the more difficult it is for him to get out of the hole he’s digging. This experience will, of course, affect the child’s social and psychological well-being; it will mark him for life and, in some cases, even lead to contemplating suicide.

If you feel that this is farfetched and will never happen to you, think again! South Korea had a massive case in 2020 which included 103 victims, 26 of which minors. The criminals used blackmailing to spread and traffic sexually exploitative videos. The market is very ripe for this material; consider that, in this case, 60,000 users bought these photos online. So even though these criminals are now behind bars, many others lurk in the digital shadows. Be vigilant about your kids’ online activity. Don’t assume that an innocent game cannot become a vehicle for sordid preditors, and reassure your children that even when they make mistakes, you’ll always have their back and be there to help them out no matter what.

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