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Experts explain dangers of Fortnite, offer tips for keeping kids safe

If you've got children who are at least 8 years old, you might have a Fortnite addict at your house.

The game is famous for keeping your kids locked to the screen but it could also come with some serious risks.

Experts say you don’t need to learn the lingo or even how to play the game to be safe and smart as a parent. It’s a matter of knowing what to ask and setting boundaries for your kids.

Fortnite is a role playing game where your kids cans be pink bears armed with spears while battling their friends in a virtual land.  The avatars dance and collect gear and goodies.

12 year-old Broc Smessaert says it's his favorite game,

He gears up for what he calls duos or squads to meet up with his real friends in the virtual world.

"So we're joining a server with other people that we're going to fight," said Broc.

The game can be a lot of fun there's also a dark side, with some serious risks if you don't know what to look for.

"It's a playground for the kids but it's also a playground for the predators," said Eric Tamashasky, a cybercrimes expert.

Tamashasky is the St. Joe County Chief Deputy Prosecutor, he oversees the cybercrimes unit at the St. Joseph Police Department and he teaches a cybercrimes course at Notre Dame.

He knows there are some people in the Fortnite land you don't want your kids meeting.

In the last couple of years, there have been dozens of child porn and exploitation arrests tied to the popular game across the country.

One of the most recent cases reported in just the last few weeks out of Florida.

The man in custody is accused of using the game to meet with a 17-year-old get pornographic images and videos of the teen, even luring the teen to his home for sex.

At this point investigators believe there are up to 20 more victims in that case alone.

Late last year 24 men, including a policeman and a firefighter, were arrested in New Jersey, posing as teens and using games and apps like Fortnite to lure children.

But how are kids being baited?

It can start out sounding pretty innocent, have you ever heard of 'Vbucks'?  Do you know what ‘skins’ are?

Broc certainly does.

"VBucks are a type of currency in this game," he said.

"You have to buy Vbucks to get different skins and dances," said Broc.

Tamashasky said because those are things kids want, there are third-party websites that can catch kids’ attention.

“There are scenarios where kids will send photos to folks in exchange for VBucks in exchange for digital currency,” Tamashasky said. “There are websites who are premised upon the degree at which you show or reveal-you get to digital diamonds or digital tool chest."

He said if you're not teaching kids about the dangers of deals that sound too good to be true, they could fall victim.

“That is extremely appealing for people who have absolutely zero financial sense and still think there’s lots of free lunches in lots of places. They don’t pay for anything!” said Tamashasky.

He also said parents just need to ask questions.

"You don't need to know how Fortnite works to ask ---who are you on with?" said Tamashasky.

He said make sure kids are never playing with strangers, ask them about each username in their squad or duo.

"Only play with the people you know in real life. You don't meet anyone new through Fortnite. The people that you play with on Fortnite are in your yearbook, they're on your bus, they're on your street," said Tamashasky.

That's what Broc said he does.  He also said he's not looking for free Vbucks.

"That's  really unsafe. There's something that could happen to your account or stuff like that," said Broc.

His mom Neika also makes sure he can only play the game on the TV in her bedroom and she always asks who he is playing with.

She's doing a good job making sure she knows what's going on in the virtual world, even if she wishes he might not spend as much time there.

"It's a double edged sword because he is playing with his friends which I think is really cool, we didn't have that when we were kids which is super cool, but I do want him out there more too," said Neika Smessaert, Broc's Mom.

"It's a brave new world as parents today.  We are all immigrants to cyber space and kids are the natives, they're more fluent to everything that goes on, but that doesn't mean they're immune to the dangers," said Tamashasky.

The big takeaways, don't play with strangers, don't accept or seek out free gifts and Vbucks and never give out your personal information.

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