Seven adults are charged in Florida with keeping two boys prisoner in a mobile home. At least one boy was contacted through the online gaming app Discord. An FBI agent says, “You’re pretty much inviting the world into your living room with these online gaming apps.”
Parents who monitor their kids’ social media accounts should also worry about online video games, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Last week’s arrest of seven adults on charges they kept two boys prisoner in a St. Petersburg mobile home was a warning that predators are using popular gaming platforms such as Fortnite and Minecraft to lure in children. At least one boy was contacted through the online gaming app Discord. Curtis Lee Gruwell, 34, communicated with a 17-year-old boy living in Louisiana through the app’s chat platform, earning his trust over time before picking him up and driving him to Florida with the promise of a better life, said St. Petersburg police. Instead, he joined a 16-year-old boy who had been held prisoner for nearly a year. The younger boy had been sexually abused by four men who kept him trapped inside a squalid mobile home, police said. The boys were freed in May. After a lengthy investigation, their alleged captors were rounded up last week.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody last week announced the arrest of a man who allegedly engaged in sexual activity and solicited pornographic photos and videos from a minor he contacted through the online game Fortnite. Authorities believe there may be 20 additional victims. “Anywhere where people have access to the internet and access to kids, some people are going to try to use it as a tool to lure kids out,” said FBI agent Kevin Kaufman. “You’re pretty much inviting the world into your living room with these online gaming apps.” Many video games have dynamic voice chats where players can communicate to large groups or in one-on-one settings. It’s common for players to chat with people they’ve never met, said cybersecurity expert Patrick Vilkinofsky of Daytona State College.