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One third of missing children enticed online are recovered in a different state: New Analysis


Today, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is releasing a brand-new analysis of children who were lured out of their homes and were reported missing to NCMEC. The report analyzed 476 cases reported missing to NCMEC between 2020 and 2023.

Online enticement is a broad category including online grooming, sextortion and sending, receiving or sharing sexually explicit images and videos. The cases addressed within this analysis contained serious scenarios where the offender ultimately met up with the child to commit a sexual offense or abduction, leading them to become a missing child. 

By reviewing these cases and learning more about these children’s experiences, the National Center hopes to better inform parents, caregivers, law enforcement, child welfare professionals and others who work to prevent this crime and bring missing children home safely.

Staca Shehan, vice president of NCMEC’s Analytical Services Division, the team who worked on the analysis, says that this information is important because it uncovered additional data and trends related to children and youth who went missing after being enticed online and expands upon anything NCMEC has released previously. This includes information on the child being targeted by adults online before going missing and age differences between the offender and the child.  

Within the analysis, NCMEC found that 41% of offenders in these cases were more than 10 years older than the child. The largest age difference was 48 years.

“These age differences demonstrated that although the rates of missing children enticed online are low when compared to the number of children online, when they do occur much older adults are targeting kids and using their vulnerabilities against them,” Shehan said.

The analysis reveals how offenders ultimately met with a child in person and the way those methods varied by age. It also notes that missing children enticed online often travel a great distance before being returned home or being located. In fact, 36% were even recovered in an entirely different state from where they went missing, which is a much greater proportion than all children reported missing during this same time period (8%).  

This kind of information may be particularly beneficial to law enforcement, as they respond to a missing child case. Shehan says it's important to note, in cases of missing children where online enticement is a factor, law enforcement and parents may need to broaden their search quickly.  

In one example, a 14-year-old girl disappeared from her home in Pennsylvania. She had been enticed by an adult male who sent her money via a payment app to travel almost seven hours via public transportation. The abductor then picked her up and the pair was found by law enforcement in North Carolina.

“The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a resource multiplier,” Shehan said. “When these cases cross jurisdictional boundaries, we are especially well equipped to help you expand the search.”

When it comes to how this analysis will impact parents and caregivers, Shehan hopes that this information will become key in creating open conversations between parents and their children. 

“It’s very important for kids to be online and to be tech-savvy,” Shehan said. “Although it may feel right, never allowing a teen to access social media is not the answer. We want parents to be empowered with the information they need to have ongoing conversations and help teens understand how to use technology more safely and the legitimate risks that exist.”

Most children were enticed online via conversations with an adult on social media sites, messenger apps and gaming sites. By using the information in this analysis, Shehan wants parents to have honest dialogue about the not-so-positive things that can occur on the platforms that kids enjoy and what to do if that happens. We know these conversations are not easy. NCMEC is here to help you with discussion starters and safety messages parents can reinforce.

“Make sure your child understands that if something like this happens, they can talk to you,” Shehan said. “Let them know that if things go too far, they won’t be blamed or in trouble. This is not their fault, and it is okay for them to ask for help.”

Here are five other key findings located within the brand-new analysis:

  • Victims of online enticement were younger when compared to their overall missing peers. 59% involved children 15 years old or younger.

  • Most children were targeted previously and known to be speaking to adults online before their missing incident.

  • The five most common sites where these conversations occurred included Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Discord and TikTok. 

  • If a child was 15 or younger, the offender traveled to the child the majority of the time. However, older teens were almost equally as likely to travel to the offender as they were to have the offender travel to them.

  • At the time this analysis was conducted, nearly all (98%) of the 476 children missing due to online enticement were recovered.

To read and download the full report and view demographics and trends, please visit our website here.

For additional resources on how to talk to your child about online safety when using social media and apps, visit:

If online enticement happens to you, NCMEC is here to help. If you or someone you know is a victim of online enticement, please consider utilizing the NCMEC resources below:

Make a report to NCMEC’s CyberTipline:

Visit Take It Down, a free platform to help you remove unwanted nude or sexually explicit imagery from the internet: