A police officer, minister, and New York City school teacher were among the 16 alleged child predators arrested in New Jersey on child sexual exploitation charges. Authorities say the men tried to lure underage boys and girls over social media apps in hopes of having sex with them.
The crackdown, called “Operation Home Alone,” involved multiple law-enforcement agencies and took place between April 11-15. Authorities say the men used social media and gaming apps like Grindr, Tinder, MeetMe, Adam4Adam, Fortnite, Minecraft, Kik, Skout, and Hot or Not to target boys and girls between 14 and 15 years old.
To catch these men, police created online profiles on the platforms and pretended to be children under the age of 15. Even after undercover officers identified themselves as being underage, the men allegedly continued the conversations about sex and made arrangements to meet.
However, when the suspects traveled to a home in Bergen County for a hookup, they instead found the undercover officers.
“In the past, child predators used to stalk children at playgrounds, at schoolyards, at shopping malls. Now they lurk on social media,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal at a news conference.
The arrested men are between 26 and 55 years old, and charges range from attempted sexual assault on a minor to luring, possession of child pornography, attempted debauching morals of a child and drug-related offenses.
“The 16 men we arrested allegedly used social media to stalk victims they believed were vulnerable children who could be sexually exploited,” Grewal said in a statement. “Parents need to know that the profiles of underage girls and boys we posted on social media to catch these offenders could easily have been profiles of their own children, who might also be targeted by predators on chat apps and popular gaming sites.”
This is not the first time some of these apps have come under fire. Grewal’s office has already gone after predators on games like Fortnite and Minecraft. Now Fortnite is accused of being addictive, and just this week in an unrelated case, a California man was arrested for attempting to lure a teen into having sex over the dating app Grindr.
“Our message to parents with Operation Home Alone is be on guard,” he added. “Our message to child predators is law enforcement is working overtime to find you and arrest you.”