Fortnite predator 'groomed children on voice chat'

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FortniteImage source, Epic Games
Image caption,
Players can form squads to help them survive in Fortnite

A 41-year-old man accused of using the hit video game Fortnite to initiate sexual activity with children has been arrested in Florida.

Anthony Gene Thomas of Broward County is accused of unlawful sex with a minor and possessing indecent images and videos of at least one victim.

According to police, an accomplice used Fortnite's voice chat to meet children and introduce them to Mr Thomas.

Police believe there could be up to 20 additional victims.

"This case is disturbing not only because it involves child pornography, but also because a popular online game was used to communicate with the victim," said Florida attorney general Ashley Moody in a statement.

"Parents need to know that predators will use any means possible to target and exploit a child. I am asking parents and guardians to please make sure you know who your children meet online, and talk to them about sexual predators."

Ms Moody has urged any other victims to get in touch with the police.

Chat warning

Mr Thomas allegedly groomed the 17-year-old victim using cash and gifts, one of which was a mobile phone which allowed him to contact the child.

This led to a face-to-face meeting in late August 2018, after which Mr Thomas and his collaborator drove the minor to Mr Thomas's home, where the sexual offences were committed.

The parents reported the child missing and police later located and returned the teenager home.

The victim remained in contact with Mr Thomas, claims the Florida attorney general, which led police to search Mr Thomas's home and seize his phone. Analysis of the device revealed pornographic pictures and videos of the victim.

Fortnite's Battle Royale mode is an online multiplayer game in which 100 players fight for survival, with the winner being the last person standing.

Players can also team up with friends or strangers and work together. As in many other online games, players who have joined a squad can talk to one another using unmoderated voice chat.

However, the voice chat can also be disabled in the settings menu.

In May last year, the NSPCC issued a warning about the chat systems in Fortnite, saying they left children open to being contacted by strangers.

It advised parents to turn off the game's voice chat system but warned that the text messaging feature could not be disabled.