Predators hide behind online gaming, authorities warn

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla.  — Amaya Chiriboga was only 12 when she had first explored the world of online gaming. Games such as Fortnite and IMVU are some of the many popular gaming sites that have crossed over into social sharing. They allow users to communicate with millions of others behind a screen. 

Games designed for fun and entertainment have now become new hunting grounds for predators who may be targeting kids behind fake identities. Chiriboga is just one out of the many victims who has been coerced by an older man into a relationship on a computer. 

“I know kids that play games like Fortnite or like Call of Duty, and obviously adults play those games as well and that whole area becomes really sketchy,” Chiriboga said. 

Chiriboga’s experience of having a relationship with an older man through video games has taught her to keep her guard up and not be so naive after revealing that she has been groomed through gaming platforms.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office arrested 25 people during Operation Intercept VI, one of which happened to be Chiriboga’s former boyfriend, Austin Patterson.

Chiriboga had visited Patterson in Florida when she turned 18, where she stayed with him for several days. One night, Patterson claimed to be working overtime as a cook in Bradenton, but he didn’t return home that night. Chiriboga grew worried. She picked up the phone and reached out to one of Patterson’s friends. That’s when Chiriboga learned Patterson had been arrested and was in the county jail. 

After his arrest, Chiriboga reflected on her time with Patterson through online and in-person events. 

“I guess he never really cared about my age because he was still saying stuff to me romantically” Chiriboga said. “At the time, I thought of it as part of the game, but it ended up coming off of the game.” 

Patterson was charged with the Use of a Computer to Solicit a Child to Commit a Sex Act and Travelling to Solicit a Child to Commit Sex Acts.

For more information on sextortion and how to protect yourself and others, you can visit https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/protecting-your-kids.