A lengthy undercover investigation in Pender County leads to charges against eight men for sex offenses against minors. It wasn't an operation out on the street, but one behind a computer at a desk. A Pender County Detective posed as an under-aged girl online to catch these men, allegedly attempting to victimize kids. The Internet Crimes against Children taskforce estimates there are 18,000 sexual predators in North Carolina alone. “When we first started this a year ago, we weren't surprised about how many were out there, or that we'd find anybody, we were surprised at how easy it was to do,” said Pender County Sheriff Carson Smith. Members of the FBI, U.S. Attorney General's Office and local law enforcement gathered Thursday to let the community know the threat to children is real, and that law enforcement is watching. “We're here today to send a very strong message to anyone who can harm our children, by way of the internet. As you are watching our children, we are watching you,” said District Attorney Ben David. The undercover operation started in the spring. Charges on the men range from exposing themselves to underage girls online, to making movies showing the exploitation of kids as young as five years old. The goal is to inform parents that predators have easy access to their children anywhere there is a computer. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sites large amounts of time online, calls to and from people you don't recognize, and withdrawal as signs your child may be at risk. The experts say keeping track of these things, and an open dialogue can help prevent your child from being victimized.
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