AG calls “game over” for sex offenders using online video-game networks

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The state, working with Microsoft, Apple, Blizzard Entertainment and other companies, purged 3,580 accounts of New York registered sex offenders from online video-game platforms, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today. The initiative, dubbed “Operation: Game Over,” was the first-ever sweep of video-game networks in New York.

“We must ensure online video game systems do not become a digital playground for dangerous predators. That means doing everything possible to block sex offenders from using gaming networks as a vehicle to prey on underage victims,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “I applaud all the companies participating in this first-of-its-kind initiative for taking online safety seriously and purging their networks of sex offenders. Together we are making the online community safer for our children, not allowing it to become a 21st century crime scene.”

Convicted sex offenders in New York are required to register all of their email addresses and screen names with the state, which makes the information available to certain websites so potential predators can be purged from online networks. The companies agreed to purge their sites — or suspend users’ communication privileges — after being approached by Schneiderman’s office. The other companies that participated are Electronic Arts, Disney Interactive Media Group, Warner Brothers and SONY.

Most video-game consoles with online capabilities allow users to access the Web and send messages under anonymous screen names. Thousands of people, both children and adults, can be playing online at any one time. Not all parents are aware there are controls that would allow them to restrict Internet access, track content and monitor contacts.

There are more than 33,000 registered sex offenders in the state, according to the Division of Criminal Justice Services. Of those, 8,331 are level 3 offenders, the highest level offenders and those who are at the most risk of recidivism.

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley praised Schneiderman’s efforts. Earlier this month, 19-year-old Richard Kretovic of Monroe County pleaded guilty to sexual-abuse charges after meeting a 10-year-old boy through the Xbox LIVE video-game system. Kretovic invited the boy to his house and abused him, police said.

“Attorney General Schneiderman’s leadership in removing sexual predators from online gaming systems has delivered real results. In Monroe County, we have seen dangerous people use gaming platforms to lure unsuspecting children,” Doorley said in a statement. “As predators seek new ways to cause harm, Operation: Game Over provides a new shield to protect our families. I look forward to working with the Attorney General and all of our partners in law enforcement to make the Internet a safer, more secure place for children around the state.”

Rich Wallis, Microsoft’s vice president and deputy general counsel, said the company’s partnership with Schneiderman’s office further helps the company manage safety for its 40 million Xbox LIVE members. “By leveraging the online identity information all registered sex offenders are required to provide, we are able to help reduce potentially harmful situations,” he said in a statement.

Sex offenders use the online community as their “private, perverted hunting ground,” said John Walsh, c0-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and host of “America’s Most Wanted.”

“This initiative is a strong model for other states, and it’s also a great partnership with private sector companies who are demonstrating their commitment to children’s safety,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo worked with social-media networks when he was attorney general for the same purpose as Schneiderman.

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