Police: Predators using gaming consoles to target kids

Sexual predators aren't just using computers to meet children online - they're using gaming consoles, like the Wii, PlayStation and Xbox, according to police.

These gaming consoles can be a "foot in the door" for child predators, police say, because most gaming systems can connect to the Internet - giving predators access to kids, allowing them to strike up seemingly innocent conversations.

Three Missouri girls between seven and 11 were recently contacted by an older man while playing "Animal Crossing: City Folk," according to the Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force. The man asked the girls for their picture and other "inappropriate information."

Over the past few months, police learned about other incidents where young children were targeted using gaming systems. The same man who contacted the three girls in Misosuri is also believed to have contacted another girl, out of state, in California.

A popular game

Drake Grimes, 12, says Animal Crossing is one of his favorite games.

"It just really never gets old," said Drake. "I mean you could play it for a really long time. You definitely get your money's worth for it. It's very fun."

The game is very popular with kids and adults, according to Brian Hulsizer with Columbia's Gaming City - where the game was sold out Wednesday. Hulsizer describes the kids' game - which features talking animals and buried treasure - as Sims-like, and "very community-oriented," with the ability to play online.

While Hulsizer says the game's a top seller - attracting kids of all ages - police say it's also attracting sexual predators.

"In our business we've seen and read reports where this has been happening ever since the technology has been around," said Det. Marc Sullivan with the Internet Crimes Task Force.

Hard to track down, investigate

Police say any online game that has instant messaging or voice chat can be used by predators to target children. Some of those platforms include: PlayStation 3, Xbox, Wii, Webkins and online chat rooms and games.

Police also say it's harder to track down and investigate online predators who use consoles over computers, since they don't have that equipment to experiment with.

"For us it would be kind of difficult," Sullivan admitted. "Since we wouldn't have the right tools to do it."

That is why police are urging parents to keep a close watch on their kids - which is just what Drake's mother has always done.

"It's troubling," she said. "If you have someone inside they can say whatever they want, or type whatever they want. They could tear up your world for that matter and you couldn't stop it."