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Online Gaming Networks Pull Plug on Thousands of Sex Offenders

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The 12-year-old was like any boy his age, playing video games on Xbox LIVE, when prosecutors say he met a predator, Richard Kretovic of Greece, N.Y.  The two chatted using their gaming consoles for three months when Kretovic persuaded the boy to come to his house, where court records say he was subjected to repeated sexual abuse.

"We have seen dangerous people use gaming platforms to lure unsuspecting children," said District Attorney Sandra Doorley in Monroe County, N.Y., whose office prosecuted Kretovic.  He has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said it's too easy for sexual predators to use voice and text chat functions in online gaming services to lure underage victims.

"The level of interaction among the players is just astonishing," Schneiderman said. "It is a really dangerous vehicle for people who would abuse this process."

In what Schneiderman's office called "Operation Game Over" Microsoft, Sony, Disney Interactive Media Group, Electronic Arts and other gaming companies agreed to shut down the accounts of more than 3,500 registered sex offenders in New York.

"By leveraging the online identity information all registered sex offenders are required to provide we are able to help reduce potentially harmful situations," said Microsoft vice president Rich Wallis.

This is the first such purge in the country and Schneiderman hopes other states follow suit.

"We have to be vigilant in this area because online gaming is not just a digital playground.  It has the potential to be a 21st century crime scene," he said.

The Pew Research Center has found 97 percent of young people ages 12-17 play some form of video games. More than a quarter of them play online with people they don't know.

"What better place could there be to find unsuspecting children and teens at their most vulnerable than when they're playing games in their own homes," said Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law.  "Even the most vigilant parent may never know their child could be gaming and chatting with a registered sex offender."

The attorney general advises parents to choose games that are age-appropriate; use a game console's parental controls, keep the console in a public area of the home and talk to kids about protecting identifying information.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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