TACOMA — A Level Three sex offender has been busted by police for allegedly trying to meet a 15-year-old girl for sex. But the ‘girl’ was actually an undercover Auburn police officer.
Cops say the 22-year-old was trying to meet up with a 14-year-old boy’s girlfriend through an Xbox. The kid’s parents found out, and cops swooped in to set up a sting and arrest him.
Convicted child rapist Brennon Cloud was arrested in 2008 and 2011 for similar crimes. He was released in 2010 but cops say he didn’t learn his lesson.
Cops say Cloud started talking to the boy using an Xbox live account. It’s a place where online players can compete and chat. But then cops say Cloud began talking to the boy on his cell phone.
Shandor Collins, owner at video game store Gamebreakerz in Auburn, says sharing phone numbers with strangers on Xbox could be a sign of something more sinister.
“Things of that nature, that’s a personal nature especially a phone number, that’s an automatic red flag,” said Collins.
Investigators say Cloud may have looked for his next victim on Xbox because finding kids there is easy. Just ask undercover Washington State Patrol trooper ‘Curtis.’
“If you’re looking for a target-rich environment, that’s the place to go,” said Curtis.
Curtis says parents don’t even consider the Xbox as a place where child predators could be lurking.
“On some level you might consider it even more dangerous,” said Curtis. “Most parents don’t even consider a gaming device as some vehicle to the Internet.”
Undercover Auburn police officers, posing as a 15-year-old girl, talked with Cloud for days over text messages. When Cloud allegedly asked to meet the young girl, cops set up a sting in Bellingham and arrested him.
Experts say this case is a reminder that the Xbox is just as dangerous a place for kids as anywhere online
“It’s not at all safer,” said Curtis. “I would look at every device that’s capable of accessing the Internet, and communicating with people that you don’t know is a danger.”
Investigators have been busy with Cloud. Seattle police posing as a different underage girl were talking with him, too.
Cloud is at the King County Jail on $200,000 bail. He’s scheduled to be back in court Friday.
Experts say predators often team up with children in games, giving them links and hints in the gaming world as a trust building technique.
Teens like 13-year-old Kyle Burks say part of the appeal of playing online is competing with outsiders. “If you go into a match and then you talk to people, you can add them as your friend and play with them later,” says Burks.
Still, Kyle admits he knows that he has to be careful of some strangers. “They go on Xbox and mess with people.” Gamers call them “trolls,” people who send inappropriate pictures and messages through the gaming system.
But it’s not always easy to spot the “trolls,” or worse, predators. Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Internet Predator Unit detectives explain that they often see adults posing as children, like in the case of an 11-year-old Tampa boy.
He was using his Xbox, playing online against someone he thought was a teenager, but then the other player made a strange request: he wanted the 11-year-old to send him nude pictures.
Master Detective Peggy Grow explained, “It started out on an Xbox and moved to Facebook and a cell phone, and the inappropriate images were done via the cell phone.”
That’s when the 11-year-old’s older brother stumbled on the pictures and showed them to their mom.
The mom then sent some text messages to the man who had befriended her son and began asking some questions. His answers disturbed her, and she contacted Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
They soon learned the person asking for those nude pictures wasn’t a teenager. The man the child was playing games with was 21-year-old Scott Gibbons of Iowa.
Turns out, mom had good reason to worry: Gibbons was already on probation at the time for inappropriate contact with a child. Federal prosecutors call Gibbons a “predator of young boys.” In May, a judge sentenced Gibbons to 14 years in prison.
Detective Heaverin says this case should be a wake-up call for local parents. “If the child goes ‘I need to be on the computer at 6 o’ clock’ ask why.
It could be that this person on the other end says ‘I want you back on at 6 o’ clock.'” Heaverin wants parents to understand that predators will spend an enormous amount of time building trust, just like Gibbons, and they may use the gaming systems as a way to gain an advantage. “Because that is part of the hunt,” he says. “‘Am I going to get them?'”
Experts suggest using a tracking program on your child’s computer and cell phones.