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HSI amps up training to better track online predators

By Crystal Price
EL PASO, Texas -- The number of children falling prey to sexual predators is on the rise, including along the border, according to federal investigators.

According to Homeland Security Investigations, the agency investigated 4,000 cases involving online sexual predators last year.

The agency said one in 25 children ages 10-17 encountered a sexual predator online who tried to meet them in person.

HSI agents in Lac Cruces said that number is going up in Las Cruces and El Paso as well.

"The Internet has become the preferred playground for child sexual predators," said Special Agent Lisa Keyes with Homeland Security Investigations in Las Cruces.

HSI said they've found sexual predators seeking out victims on various social media sites.

And with the launching of new social media websites such as Snapchat and Chatterkick, Keyes said they are amping up their training for Homeland Security agents.

"It allows them to stay up to date with the social trends so that t it allows us to learn new tactics, to identify warning signs, and to identify predators online," Keyes said.

Elizabeth Smith and her twin sister, Claire, of Las Cruces, said the to two have been surfing the web half their lives.

"Probably since I was 5 or 6," Elizabeth said.

The girls' mother, Carolyn Smith, said she does not let either daughter on social media sites.

"I don't allow them to go on Facebook at this point," Smith said. "I know several other friends have Instagram but that makes me nervous as well."

Smith said she also makes sure to turn off the location services on their phones and she constantly checks their phones to see where they go online.

"I've been a victim of fraud online personally so I know if people can get to me they can get to my kids just as easily if not faster, because they are children," Carolyn Smith said.

Homeland Security Investigations has also started a nationwide cyber safety campaign in an effort to curb the escalating number of children falling prey to sexual predators online.

The campaign is referred to as Project iGuardian.

HSI special agents will visit schools and youth groups across the country to give parents and children hands-on tips on how to avoid falling victim to online sexual predators.

Below are HSI tips on how parents and children can better protect themselves from online sexual predators.

Tips for parents:

-Engage with your children.
-Make sure there is open line of communication
-Monitor what websites your children are surfing

Tips for children:
-Tell an adult or someone you trust if you encounter someone you do not know online