Dutch children's rights activists have come up with a novel way to catch online predators: They created a very realistic computer-generated 10-year-old girl. Researchers from the organization, Terre des Hommes, then posed as "Sweetie," who was supposedly from the Philippines, and logged onto Internet chat rooms. During the 10-week sting, 20,000 people contacted Sweetie, the BBC reports; out of those, 1,000 adults solicited her, offering to pay to watch her undress or perform sex acts via webcam. The US was the top country of origin, with 254 solicitors, then Britain with 110. Here's a sample chat that occurred during a demonstration given to the AP:
- Sweetie: "What you want see?"
- User: "U."
- Sweetie: "What u pay for?"
- User: "Naked."
In that case, the user ended up offering $20 via wire transfer. But Terre des Hommes never actually accepted any money, CNET reports, and it didn't have to do any hacking to identify the users—they offered up their Skype handles, social media profiles, and even pictures and phone numbers to Sweetie, and Terre des Hommes turned that information over to Interpol, though it's not clear anyone will actually be prosecuted. The organization is looking to bring attention to so-called "webcam child sex tourism," which they say minors from poor countries are often forced into. Right now it's still a "cottage industry," the director of projects says, but if authorities don't do more to halt the practice, "the same thing [could] happen with this as has happened with child pornography—that is now a multibillion dollar industry in the hands of criminal gangs."