NEVADA, MO.--- Deputies with the Vernon County Sheriff's Office are investigating a sexual predator targeting young girls. Several parents in Vernon County reported their kids being approached through Facebook and text messaging. The suspect claims to be a teenage boy and friends them. After establishing an online relationship, he asks the girls for nude photographs. Deputies say the suspect then sends the pictures to other teenage boys.
"It's one of those things that a child may not tell their parents," said Steve Schlup, Vernon County Sheriff Investigator.
Investigators say this isn't the first time they've seen this type of scam. Predators will create a fake profile to target young children.
"It'll look like a 15 year old girl's Facebook page or a 16 year old boy's Facebook page, and they'll get on there and try to contact other kids close to the area," said Jason Mosher, Vernon County Sheriff.
Vernon County Sheriff Jason Mosher and local deputies say they are working with other law enforcement agencies to try and pinpointing a suspect in this case.
"We might check federal database and see if that individual is in the federal database for whatever reason, and that he can be a registered sex offender somewhere," said Schlup.
Even with the help of the Joplin Cyber Task Force and undercover investigators, tackling social media predators is a challenge.
"There's all kinds of places out there that make it easy to connect to with people, and you don't even really know who they are," said Sheriff Mosher.
Sheriff Mosher believes if parents don't get involved with their kid's social life, more crimes like this will take place.
"It's something that just kind of snuck up on people and there's been some efforts to educate children, but not as much as we could be doing," said Sheriff Mosher.
Which is why throughout the investigation, deputies are urging parents to monitor their children's devices.
"A child doesn't go looking for it sometimes, may turn out that this is a joke, but then it winds up being where a predator gets a hold of that and uses it to their advantage and then they become a victim," said Schlup.
While there's been no arrest in the case, deputies say they do have a suspect they're investigating. They are asking parents and teens to report any suspicious text messages, e-mails, or phone calls.