MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Now that school is out, your children may have more free time to spend online. That increases the chances of them coming in contact with criminals.

Whether they’re playing games they’ve downloaded on their devices, sharing photos, or exchanging messages, they’re likely interacting with strangers and not just their friends.

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An internet crimes specialist with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension told WCCO what parents can do to educate and protect their kids from people who might harm them.

Law enforcement officers acknowledge it’s a lot easier said than done, but it’s important to monitor what children are doing online to protect them.

They want parents to know there are dangers that lurk behind certain apps and games.

Karina Hedinger is with the BCA and specializes in internet crimes against children.

“Any time kids can be in contact with another human being, no matter what kind of technology, or app, or social media, or game, parents need to be aware of that, think about that, and have a conversation about that,” Hedinger said.

She says it’s crucial to warn kids about sharing too many details about their personal lives.

It can be pieced together to reveal where a child lives.

“Even though it doesn’t seem like a big deal that you’re telling someone that you play softball every Tuesday night and you play for whatever team or whatever school,” Hedinger said, “that conversation can be put together with another conversation that was had a week ago, and little pieces can be put together.”

Hedinger says three apps that cause concern are Snapchat, Yik Yak and something called Kik. They make it easy to develop relationships with unsuspecting children and teenagers.

And then there are the games, where you can chat with your opponents.

“You are having a live conversation with the people as you are playing the game, and a lot of parents don’t realize that,” Hedinger said.

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The BCA has resources to educate parents on internet safety for kids.

And there’s also software you can buy to help monitor your children’s devices.

“Some of the different software that’s out there will send some of that information and let mom and dad know before the kids end up deleting it,” Hedinger said.

Investigators at the BCA say as kids have become more tech savvy, so have criminals. It’s become easier for predators to arrange meetings with children.

So for parents, there needs to be a daily conversation with kids about making smart choices when they are online.

If you’re worried about a particular person your child is interacting with, you can report it to the police. In some cases, they can track down the person.

Websites recommended by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on internet safety for kids:

NetSmartz Workshop

My Mobile Watchdog

Be Here For Kids

Protect Kids Online

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