'Fortnite': Florida Man Used Online Game To Lure Teen for Child Pornography, Attorney General Says

Florida's attorney general has spoken out after the arrest of a man who allegedly used popular online video game Fortnite to lure a teen for sex and solicit child pornography.

Officials suspect Anthony Gene Thomas, 41, of Broward County, used Fortnite to get close to his victim, ultimately engaging in sexual activity with the minor and requesting graphic images and videos. According to Attorney General Ashley Moody, there could be up to 20 other victims.

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Massively popular, Fortnite attracted some 78.3 million users in August of last year, according to its developer Epic Games. Particularly popular with young people, the game's rapid rise has caused some campaign groups to voice concerns about its safety.

Back in May, British children's charity NSPCC said Fortnite's chat systems leave kids vulnerable to contact from strangers, the BBC previously reported. The charity estimated some 25 percent of children playing the game may have been contacted by strangers.

Moody voiced her concerns about the "disturbing" Florida case 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."

Investigators believe Thomas worked with an accomplice who contacted and befriended the 17-year-old victim over the Fortnite platform. The co-conspirator then introduced the victim to Thomas—again through the online game—officials suspect.

Thomas allegedly plied the teen—who complained of financial difficulties at home—with gifts such as credit cards and a cell phone that opened up an extra line of communication between the pair.

The 41-year-old and his co-conspirator eventually arranged to take the victim to the defendant's home, officials said. Thomas is suspected of engaging in sexual activity with the teenager on August 25 of last year, before the victim's parents reported their child missing. The police found the minor the next day.

Thomas and the teen kept in touch as officers investigated the alleged offences. Police found pornograpic pictures and clips of the minor on the defendant's phone after it was seized in an October search.

Authorities charged Thomas with possession with intention to promote sexual performance of a child, 22 counts of child pornography, soliciting a child for unlawful sexual conduct using computers, traveling to meet a minor for unlawful sexual activity, and unlawful sexual activity with a minor.

"We have reason to believe there could be additional victims, and I am asking anyone with information about the recruiting of minors for child pornography, or any other type of sexual exploitation, to call law enforcement immediately," Moody said.

Fortnite, Child Pornography, Pedophilia, Florida, Online Gaming, Crime
People crowd the display area for the survival game Fortnite at the 24th Electronic Expo, or E3 2018, in Los Angeles, California on on June 12, 2018. Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images