Predators beware: Kids learning to outsmart criminals

Laptop computer keyboard, Photo Date: Undated / PXHERE / MGN
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) -- Headline after headline has caught the attention of many of you in recent days after we've reported on multiple cases of men, in some cases coaches, enticing or preying on children.

The sheer number of these kinds of cases is increasing to the point it's hard for police to keep up.

We wanted to know why it's become more prevalent and discovered kids and technology are quickly outsmarting many of these predators.

"We've been seeing an increase in cases for ICAC in the last two to three months," says Lt. Jim Valley, who leads the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit at the Brown County Sheriff's Office.

He's been working child predator cases for years.

We've been with his team on undercover operations, hoping to help teach parents and kids how to stay a step ahead of these predators.

That education is now paying off.

"They're reporting this stuff to their parents that someone's asking to meet (them), or someone's asking you for a picture," explains Valley. "Parents are being more aware of what's happening on devices."

So far this year, the county's small team of investigators has worked 18 ICAC cases, compared to eight at this time a year ago.

Each of the last three years, they've worked more than 100 cases. Valley says all of them involved local predators and typically young, local victims.

"More cases sometimes means good in the sense that these kids aren't sending images of themselves and aren't falling for some of the things that these predators want," describes Valley.

But that means predators move from targeting teens or pre-teens to even younger kids, he says, so parents need to be even more involved in every child's online activity.

They're also getting help from companies like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, who Valley says are reporting more cyber tips to authorities.

"Usually these companies have filters where they can identify certain things that are shared across their own applications. When you first download the app and don't read the terms of service and everything's in there that they pretty much own all your chat or your pictures, they're going through those with their special technology to identify anything that's happening illegally," he says.

That technology flags inappropriate text and pictures.

Since 2014, Valley says the ICAC team has confiscated more than four million images from Brown County cases alone.

"It's one of those things where this stuff has been happening kind of underground for a long time, so it's good we can maybe get a hold of it," says Valley, adding, there's still much more work to do.