24 men—including a cop—were arrested for luring kids for sex using online games.

As if parents needed another reason to fret about their kids’ Fortnite obsession, let’s add child predators to the list.

New Jersey authorities have announced the outcome of their statewide undercover sting “Operation Open House,” and it should put all parents on watch. A police sergeant, a firefighter, a nurse, and a convicted sex offender were among the 24 men arrested for trying to lure kids and teens online into meeting them for sex. The men used various online venues, including popular games such as Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox, to communicate with their potential victims.

You read that right. A police officer and a firefighter—our revered “good guy” first responders—were among the accused predators. Undercover officers engaged in online chats with the suspects in order to catch them attempting to engage in sexual activity with minors—and it worked.


Twenty-four men caught preying on children online. In just one sting. In just one state.

I know. I want to puke, too.

The undercover officers posed as 14- and 15-year-olds, chatting with the men who claimed to be teens too.

Richard Conte, a 47-year-old police sergeant in the Howell Township Police Department, thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old girl on social media when he arranged to meet with her. When he arrived at the Toms River house they agreed upon, he was met by a Toms River police officer and arrested.

Conte, along with the 23 other men caught during “meet week,” tried to meet kids and teens in person for sexual activity. Posing as teenagers themselves online, they deceive their victims into thinking they’re going to meet up with a peer. Conte had told the undercover officer (the one he thought was a 15-year-old girl) that he was a 19-year-old male. Since the arrest, Conte has been suspended from the department without pay.

All 24 men are charged with luring. Some also face additional charges of attempted sexual assault on a child.

There are some things parents can do to protect kids—besides shuttering them in a tower with no internet access until they’re 21.  

As a parent, stories like this are terrifying. We all like to think our kids are smart enough not to fall prey to sickos online, but they're kids. Their brains aren’t fully developed, they don’t always exercise the best judgement, and predators know how to manipulate them. It’s tempting to want to just ban the internet and never let them leave the house.

But we live in a world that is very much intertwined with—and in many ways reliant on—the internet. Making online spaces safer and preparing kids with the skill they need to wisely navigate online worlds will go farther in keeping them safe in the long term.

“It’s critical that parents talk to their children about social media and chat apps to let them know that the people they encounter may not be who they initially seemed to be,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a press conference.

Parents need to warn their kids and explain what strangers are capable of. This is one instance where scaring kids crapless seems perfectly justified. It’s also important for parents to utilize built-in safety features. If you don’t think your child is ready for in-game chatting with strangers, you can turn off that feature in many games.

It takes vigilance to keep our kids safe, both online and off. This is a good reminder to not let our guard down, no matter how popular or common an online game may be.  

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

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2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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