BISMARCK, ND (KFYR) — As the internet continues to be a big part of many Americans’ lives, online crimes against children have skyrocketed. North Dakota task force agents often witness criminals luring children to meet, defrauding them of information, or exchanging explicit and abusive photos and videos of children. So how big is the problem and what are the agents doing to hunt down the predators?

As predators lurk behind the screen, they often attempt to contact unsuspecting and trusting children. Many parents are suspicious.

“The main fear I have now is that she gives information. And someone will come who’s a man and not a woman and tell him he’s his age,” Bismarck’s parent Tricia Brown said.

As children grow using the internet, they also learn to stay safe.

“My mother has already told me about it. They can take advantage of you and other things. I’m a little scared of people [the internet] ask me questions about my age, where I live, things like that,” said Karisma, a fourth-grader.

Parents are not the only ones to protect children. Others work hard too, chasing the shadows.

As predators lurk in the darkest corners of the internet, state task force agents work to bring abuse to light.

Every day, BCI agents receive CyberTips from Internet Service Providers.

“This is from Google as a service provider. And again, child exploitation material,” North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations senior officer Steven Harstad said, pointing to a tip posted on his computer screen.

Tipping has increased by more than 500% over the past six years.

“Over time, younger and younger children are getting devices and access to the internet. So I think it increases the number of possible targets. Also, I think people do a better job pointing it out. The service providers do a better job reporting it,” Senior Officer Harstad said.

Chief Constable Harstad tells Your News Leader that the task force is having “good success” in tracking down these criminals in North Dakota. Every 1,000 tips, some of which are several for the same person, results in approximately 200 arrests of people trying to meet or defraud children or obtain and exchange explicit and abusive material from children.

The stakes are high, but agents say the work makes sense.

“You come to the end of the case and you really saved a child,” said Senior Constable Harstad.

He says that even though there are real dangers with serious consequences, the Internet can still be a useful tool and a source of entertainment. He says education and open communication are key to keeping your children safe.

Your news editor will bring you more information on what happens after a criminal is caught and how educators help keep kids safe in parts two and three of this multi-part series. “Virtual Vigilance”.

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