Paedophile hunter warns of risks from social media

PARENTS are exposing their children to online sex offenders by allowing them to have Facebook accounts without any security restrictions, paedophile hunter Cheyenne O’Connor has warned.

Cheyenne O'Connor
Cheyenne O'Connor

The 26-year-old, who poses as teenagers online to catch offenders, says that men are stalking the social media site in the hope of striking up a friendship – and eventually grooming – innocent children.

She made the comments just weeks after 25-year-old Miguel Angelo Pereira Freitas was jailed for two years and six months and recommended for deportation after sending explicit images to one of her fake accounts and grooming a real teenager on Facebook.

He was caught after the girl told her sister, who then contacted Miss O’Connor (pictured, right) before reporting the case to the police.

‘Parents need to up their game. There are so many mums and dads who allow their children to have Facebook accounts but don’t lock down the account to restrict things such as who can see it,’ said Miss O’Connor, who has caught 24 online sex offenders during the past two years.

‘I could probably find ten accounts in five seconds that have no locks on them. They will have all sorts of information about them – even what school the child goes to,’ she added.

Although children have to be aged at least 13 before they can set up a Facebook account, Miss O’Connor says the restrictions are easily bypassed and there is little to stop any child from launching a profile.

And if the account is not restricted, friends of friends can see the profile and the child can soon be inundated with friend requests as the reach of the account snowballs.

‘One of my friends has just let her daughter have Facebook and she is 11. And she had about 30 friend requests from men in their 30s as soon as she set it up.

‘She has got Year 7 on her profile,’ said Miss O’Connor.

She added that between ten to 15 of the 24 men she had caught had committed their offences on Facebook.

Although most of Miss O’Connor’s cases have involved ‘fake’ children, she claims she is often contacted by teenage girls who say they have received inappropriate messages from adults on Facebook.

Earlier this year, research carried out by the NSPCC in the UK showed that an average of one child in every classroom will have sent, received or been asked to send explicit content to an adult over the internet.

At the time, Detective Superintendent Stewart Gull, the States police lead on child sexual exploitation, said the true extent of the crime in Jersey was unknown but that child sexual exploitation and grooming was a priority area of focus for the States police.

In a statement issued to the JEP, the NSPCC said: ‘We know that children and young people are increasingly being targeted on social networks like Facebook and parents or carers play a really important role in helping to keep them safe.

‘Talking to your child openly and regularly about the sites they visit, whether you both agree they’re ok and whether they, or their friends, have seen something that makes them feel uncomfortable are all practical steps you can take.

‘Parental controls, which can be installed on phones or tablets, games consoles or laptops, are also hugely effective in helping to keep a child safe online.’

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