HOUSTON - The amount of time children are spending online has increased during the pandemic which means their vulnerability to predators has also intensified.
To combat that issue and educate families about online threats, Governor Greg Abbott's office has teamed up with The McCain Institute, Clear Channel, and Texas Center for the Missing to launch the Real Friends Don't campaign.
"We have an epidemic of online exploitation of our children," The Director of Abbott's Child Sex Trafficking Team, Andrea Sparks says. "The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is telling us that reports of online enticement of children for sexual purposes has increased by 97.5%."
The Houston Police Department has seen the same unfortunate trend.
"Reports that Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force received have more than doubled," Lieutenant John Colburn with the department's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force explains. "The reason for this is children are at home they're online more they're doing homework, they're surfing the internet, chatting with friends."
The Real Friends Don't campaign will use digital billboards in both English and Spanish in more than 70 cities across Texas to spread awareness about Internet Safety.
Case Manager for Texas Center for the Missing, Melissa Rangel points out she's noticed those reported missing lately seem to be getting younger and younger and says the earlier you start these conversations the better.
She also stresses the importance of having a cell phone in your name, not your child's,
"We need to make sure that if your children get abducted or get lured off the internet, you'll be able to get those phone logs and those text messages from the service provider."