SEATTLE – Parents around the world have likely heard about Fortnite. It’s a popular video game where characters are on an island armed with weapons challenged with the task of kill or be killed. Thursday, Fornite Chapter 2, Season 2 launched.
This game has a massive following with about 250 million people from children to celebrities. With so many people online, security experts said it’s easy for predators to target players who aren’t careful. While fans of the game check out the upgrades, online predators also log on.
“They know where to go. They know where to find potential victims,” said Captain Mike Edwards, commander of the Washington Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. “These folks are hiding in plain sight.”
Edwards said predators will seek out younger gamers who have lower scores on Fortnite or other online gaming forums. He said that’s when suspects will reach out with tips and advice to gain their trust.
“All that are grooming techniques that these predators use. It’s a way to get into the confidence of that child and then get access to that child. And then what they will typically do is move them to a nontraditional site. So, they’ll move them out of these other forums that are heavily monitored that other people see the comments,” said Edwards.
The ICAC Task Force travels statewide presenting safety tips to help parents protect their children. Kelly Crouch, the task force’s strategic advisor, said it’s a good idea for parents to get rid of the headphones often used when online gaming.
“Listen to it through the volumes and so then you can kind of monitor and see what’s happening on that gaming platform and then decide for yourselves is that something you’re comfortable with your child utilizing or would you want to use the parental controls that come with the game where you can turn off the conversation,” said Crouch.
Edwards encouraged parents to have their kids explain the game, show how it works and ask questions.
“Something like, ‘Hey, you know when you’re having some difficulty getting to that next level or obtaining that achievement or making that goal what do you do? I mean, you must get frustrated right?’ Let them explain where they go for information, who do they ask? Where are they getting that from?” said Edwards.
Taskforce members said predators use all sorts of online forums to reach their targets, not just Fortnite. So, they encouraged players to have different usernames and profile pictures on all of those platforms. This will lower the risk of a suspect finding and contacting them online.
University of Washington student Andy Cahill has been playing Fortnite since it was first created. He said the game is kind of like another social network for him where he can, “just talk about school, life in general.”
For players like him, the latest version of the popular game is another chance to reconnect with online friends and see what’s new.
“I think it’s really the building mechanics that keep me coming back. And I feel like when Fortnite maximizes building in their updates, it’s when Fortnite is at its best,” said Cahill.
Though he feels safe playing online, Cahill still had a word of advice for the younger gamers.
“Don’t say anything like personal information or anything they can identify yourself with,” he said.
The ICAC Task Force also monitors other online forums for suspects. Kik Messenger is a free app where users can send messages and pictures. Twitch is a video live streaming service often used by gamers.
Security experts said predators like to lure players off of popular sites to services like these where the comments are private. Parents are advised to monitor the child’s use if they have either of them on their phone or computer.