PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB)– According to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) in 2020, the Panhandle region had the highest rate per capita of child victims in the entire state of Florida, and that number was 201, and in 2021 the number of victims increased by 40%.

Chief J.R. Talamantez with the Panama City Beach Police Department said children are often solicited online, and it’s an extremely prevalent crime that doesn’t just happen in the Panhandle, but globally as well.

“It takes minutes, and all you need is a child with access to the internet that is unsupervised,” he said.

Talamantez said parents need to be vigilant of their child’s activity online, and most importantly know what apps their children are using, as the most popular apps like Tik Tok, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook— are often the most dangerous. 

He recommends parents have a blunt and straightforward conversation about the dangers that lurk online with their children, as they’ve most likely been in contact with suspicious activity. He believes blocking an app from your child won’t do much, as there are many loopholes to gain access, but instead teach them the fundamentals of being safe online.

“Don’t give your kid unlimited, unrestricted access to the internet. Now, if you’re going to give them access to the internet, do it with restrictions, and let them grow into the world of the web because if you don’t they will drown,” he said.

Chief Talamantez suggests having an open mind when having the first conversation regarding online safety as your child may not take it well, or you may go through their phone and find items you may be upset by. He said the most important thing to gain from conversations such as this, is the root of possible problems your child may be facing.

“For example, if your child finds the need to talk to someone they have never met on the internet, identify why,” he said. 

Some other tips he suggested are to download the same apps your child has on their phone, on to your phone, so you know exactly what they have access to, and to steer clear of apps with anonymous posting capabilities entirely.

Red flags Chief Talamantez said to be on the look for, is anytime someone asks you to send money or photos, and to monitor the tone of the conversation. He said once that happens, local law enforcement should be contacted, especially if photos and money had already been sent.