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Online groomers rarely pose as children and can succeed in persuading a child to meet in less than half an hour, according to researchers probing the way in which sexual predators target victims online.

The UK-based research team behind the findings say they hope to overturn common misconceptions about how online groomers operate in a bid to help parents protect their children. They suggest the research could also aid the development of better software programmes to catch online predators.

From two studies involving a total of more than 250 groomers, none of the predators were found to be masquerading as children. “A huge percentage of them say the age they are,” said Izura. “We had a range of ages between 18 and 65, the real age, and the [stated] age was between 16 years of age to 61.”

Another finding, say the researchers, is that online grooming can be very rapid, with analysis of chat logs revealing that it can take just 18 minutes for some predators to arrange to meet their victim. “The speed can be alarmingly fast, ” said Izura. The fastest, says Lorenzo-Dus used sophisticated, persuasive, language-based strategies to build trust rapidly, including the use of small talk and praise.

– Nicola Davis

Read more: Online grooming of children ‘alarming fast’, researchers find