Indiana children among victims of international exploitation ring
It's being called one of the largest online child exploitation investigations in U.S. history and several Indiana children were victims.
The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced 14 men operating a child pornography website have been arrested.
The hundreds victims span 39 states and five different countries.
Police say it should serve as a wake up call for parents to watch their children's online activity even more closely.
The investigation uncovered more than 250 young victims, mostly boys between the ages of 13 and 15.
They were all exploited by online predators and some of the victims are from right here in Indianapolis.
"It stems from our investigation into an offender who exploited children via the mail. In the course of the investigation, we uncovered the identity of an administrator of a secret, members-only child exploitation website," explained Gerald O'Farrell, U.S. Postal Inspection Service Inspector.
"Operation Round Table" shut the website down.
The massive federal bust netted 14 arrests, including a man from Granger, Indiana, near South Bend. Investigators say the predators pretended to be teenage girls on social media, chatted up children and got young boys to upload explicit videos of themselves.
They say the website's main administrator even coached other child predators how to target and coerce kids to produce the videos of themselves.
Greenwood Police Assistant Chief Matthew Fillenwarth has investigated smaller cases, with the same M.O.
"We've definitely encountered it. They will do whatever they need to do to get at your child," Fillenwarth said. "These people specifically go to places where children and teens hang out online."
Fillenwarth says the predators hang out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, in chat rooms and even video game chat rooms.
That's where they gain children's and teens' trust, then exploit them.
"As an adult you might go, 'Oh, I can't believe you fell for that,' but what 13-year-old is thinking they're going to be victimized by someone online who they think is someone their age," Fillenwarth said.
Police say it is vital to monitor your child's computer and smartphone.
Snooping equals safety. They suggest let your kids know why you're doing it.
"If your kid has a social media site, you should be a friend of theirs on that social media site. You should have the password to that social media site and periodically go in and check, 'Who's their friends?' If they've got friends who are people they've never met, they shouldn't have those friends, because they can't guarantee who they are," Fillenwarth said. "As a parent, especially now, you really have to pay attention to what's on their phone and computer. There are just too many predators out there just waiting to victimize your kids online."
Investigators say in the global "Operation Round Table" bust, more arrests are expected. There could be more victims, as well.