By Blair Rhodes, CBC News
A St. Peters, Mo., man is facing a total of eight charges after he allegedly sent nude pictures and videos of himself to an RCMP officer posing as a 12-year-old girl. (Igor Stevanovic/Shutterstock)
A Nova Scotia undercover RCMP officer was giving a presentation about the problem of online sexual predators in May 2015, when she decided to do a simple demonstration.
She used her phone to log onto a chat site popular with children, and pretended to be a 12-year-old girl.
"My post simply said: 'This site is weird, LOL. But I'm bored' and I just said 'hit me up,'" said the officer, who CBC News is not identifying due to her undercover work.
The results were alarming. During the next 50 minutes, her phone buzzed with replies to her post — 132 in all.
"I opened up the first 10 — five of the 10 were just simply explicit photos."
The demonstration would eventually lead to eight charges of sexual misconduct involving a child younger than 15 being laid against a man living 2,900 kilometres away in St. Peters, Mo., for sending nude photos of himself to the Nova Scotia officer.
The officer is a member of the provincial internet child exploitation or ICE unit. She spoke to CBC News recently about her work in general, and about this case in particular.
'He was so insistent'
She ultimately decided to pursue one of the explicit hits.
"He sent me a bunch of photos and videos, without me replying, and then sent me a couple of messages. Because I felt he was so insistent, I engaged with him," the officer said.
"I chatted with him for a while, and was able to gain some information about him and his whereabouts and his career and what he does for a living, how old he was, stuff like that."
The officer was able to obtain a warrant and get information about the man's internet activity. She assembled what she'd found and sent if off to the main ICE unit in Ottawa, which in turn forwarded the material to American authorities.
Those authorities declined to speak to CBC News about the case because it is still before the courts.
The Missouri case is a bit unusual in that the offender is not in Nova Scotia. So far this year, the Nova Scotia ICE unit has handled 70 cases of child pornography in the province and 26 cases of child luring.
"It's scary, I definitely wouldn't want to be a teenager in today's world," the officer said.
Const. Vicki Colford is another member of the provincial ICE unit. In her 18 months with the unit, she said she's seen a steady increase in cases.
"Every file is like a puzzle," Colford said. "So you have to work your way through it and see how you can get the information and how you can help solve that crime."
When officers find internet activity that appears suspicious, they try to learn enough to obtain a warrant to get an internet address and other information from the service provider. Armed with that information, police can then track a suspect to their home and monitor their computer activity until they have enough evidence to get an arrest warrant.
Colford advises parents to pay attention to who their children are communicating with online. If a child doesn't know the person in real life, then they likely shouldn't be talking to them online.
"I always like to tell kids, my kids included, 'I would never drop you off in a downtown of a city and say go meet some friends and I'll pick you up in a few hours,'" Colford said.
"But it seems like parents do that with the internet, and it's the same thing really."