NORTHEAST WISCONSIN - Are your children chatting online? If so, they may find trouble.
The results of Operation Black Veil II, which netted 16 arrests, are offering a lesson to parents whose children may spend time on the Internet.
FOX 11's Laura Smith got an exclusive, behind the scenes look at the sting held in Northeast and Central Wisconsin.
Investigators stressed throughout the operation that parents really need to keep an eye on what their children are doing online.
Over the course of four days, we saw it happen again and again.
Officers arrested suspected child sex predators at gas stations, a bowling alley, and a pharmacy.
In each case, the suspect thought he was meeting up with an underage boy or girl for sex.
The arrests stemmed from Operation Black Veil II.
It began last Wednesday in this back room at the Door County Sheriff's Department.
Undercover officers, posing as either a 15-year-old boy or girl, posted and responded to ads on Craigslist.
They were targeting online predators who solicit children for the purpose of engaging in sexually explicit activities.
"It's extremely concerning because we know if there was a real child on the other end, that that child would be abused in some type of way, and what does that lead to the future of that child in that position," said Investigator Jim Valley, Door County Sheriff's Dept.
Alongside investigators, we saw many emails and texts containing graphic language and images.
"The hardest part of this is like, right now, I have like 10 conversations going on at the same time, trying to keep track of the conversation is, and who wants what, and what they're asking for," said Aaron Dufek, Ashwaubenon Public Safety.
It's unnerving not only for us, but for some of the investigators working the sting.
"Some of it was shocking the responses that you get, and the pictures. It's kind of disturbing," said Deputy Jason Stenzel, Brown County Sheriff's Dept.
While trying to catch potential child sex predators online may be disturbing and exhausting. These investigators say it's something they feel compelled to do.
"Exploiting children like that is unbelievable, so that's why I signed up," Stenzel said.
Whether it's on a phone, a tablet or a computer, children have many ways to access the Internet. Officials say parents have a responsibility to keep young ones safe.
"Some people say that's spying on my kids, well in this day and age you need to spy on your kids to make sure they're safe. What you're seeing in this investigation alone, I think justifies you taking a look, and knowing where your kids are and what they're doing," said Sergeant Chris Amraen, Brown County Sheriff's Dept.
Amraen says there are software programs available that allow parents to monitor their children's online activities.
"You can choose to block email or allow email. You can choose to block it all," said Cyberworks owner Jim Overly.
We looked into those programs, which are available at most computer retail stores, and checked out how they work.
"Trend Micro, Norton, Net Nanny are three of the more popular ones. And they protect against kids accidentally coming across things on the Internet, and also monitor their activities," said Overly.
Jim Overly said the programs, which are password protected, range in price from 30 to 80 dollars.
He adds they're designed for parents, and people who aren't computer savvy, so they're easy to install.
One of the perks is limiting the times the Internet is available, for example from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.
"Therefore the parents are generally home and can monitor what the kids are doing. You can also have them monitor chat rooms, so they log or record everything that's typed, so a conversation can then be reread by the parents at a later time. They also act as filters or block websites that would have images that parents don't want their kids to see," Overly said.
When it comes to keeping an eye on your children's cell phones, there are ways to monitor those devices as well.
"Phones have, in some cases built in, a level of restrictions, where parents can go in and set whether their kids can watch certain ratings of movies, so they can set it to only 'G' movies or 'G' TV shows, set content restrictions on music, so you can only have certain music. You can also shut off access to things like FaceTime which is a video chatting application. And you can also prevent kids from downloading certain applications when they have questionable content," said Nic Beining with Cellcom.
On an iPhone, you can do that by going to settings, choosing general and then restrictions. Kids can't change those restrictions without a pass code.
With Android phones, there are also built in restrictions, but these phones mostly rely on third party applications.
"Such as My Mobile Watchdog, or NQ Mobile is another one. And with Androids case, typically parents can go to a website, and provision those settings, and then those get applied to the phone. So you can actually see on the web what your kids might be sending and receiving, what pictures they're sending and text messages," explained Beining.
Over the course of Operation Black Veil II, investigators made contact with as many as 1,500 potential child predators.
Authorities say, while they're doing their part, this latest sting should serve as a wake up call to parents.
"I don't think the parents are really aware of the ability to go out on the Internet, whether it be on a smart phone, whether it be on a computer that the kids are accessing. There are these predators out there and they're preying on our children," said Sheriff John Gossage, Brown County Sheriff's Dept.
Want to know more about how to keep your children safe online? Click here for helpful online safety tips from the Wisconsin Department of Justice. You can also find information here on cell phone safety tips.
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