NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The threat to children from online predators is greater now than ever before. “Stay home” orders mean kids stay online. Now, with school going virtual again for many, experts are urging parents to be vigilant.

Twenty males and one female, ages 15 to 71, have been identified, arrested and now face prosecution in New Jersey, the culmination of “Operation: Screen Capture,” which was launched in response to a spike in cyber threats against kids during the coronavirus pandemic, CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock reported.

“We acted in direct response to an alarming increase in the number of tips we were receiving concerning online threats to children,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.

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Grewal said potential threats increased by 50%, adding the reasoning was simple — children spending more time online for learning and recreation, and predators are opportunistic. The victimization of younger children, ages 7, 8, 9, because of video sharing has become an alarming trend.

The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is urging parents to step up and help combat the ever-present online danger.

“Parents, teach your children that the people they encounter online, on their phones, on their devices, may not be who they seem,” Grewal said. “Apps and gaming systems continue to be prime hunting ground.”

It’s happening in chat platforms, and apps that don’t monitor content can be problematic, officials said. Check security settings and kids should only chat with familiar faces.

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“Develop an online safety plan,” said Dr. Jill Emanuele, the senior director of the Mood Discord Center at the Child Mind Institute.

Emanuele said establish rules and guidelines and discuss unusual things to be on the lookout for.

“If someone is asking you to direct message them in a private forum, that’s probably not something you would do with a stranger. You would also not give a stranger pictures of yourself,” Emanuele said.

She said signs that your child might be in trouble online include a “child trying to conceal activity, closing the computer when you walk in the room, all of the sudden becoming more withdrawn, anxious or sad.”

Another warning sign is children spending longs hours online at night.

If you start to notice a number of these things happening start a conversation with “I have these concerns,” and then ask questions and make an effort to listen to your child.

More tips from the task force include:

  • Reminding children to never share personal information.
  • Screen names should not reveal gender or age.
  • Do not allow your children to keep their device overnight. A family charging station is a great solution.

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