The Anatomy of Capping

July 8, 2014

Over the past several years of sharing my message of internet and social media safety with over 168,000 junior and senior secondary students (both here in Canada, and the United States) and given that I am also a serving law enforcement professional, I have been involved in helping more than a few youth and their families deal with the very challenging issue of “capping.”

Capping, also known as cat-fishing, chicken hawking, and a lot of other creative names, is when an online predator (not necessarily a pedophile) will groom a child over time in an attempt to gain confidence and rapport in an attempt to create a perceived online relationship. Often pretending to be the same age or opposite sex, the capper will set their trap, and then slowly introduce sexual language and content into the conversation to test the waters and desensitize the youth. If the capper feels that their target is ripe for the picking, and utilizes what online psychologists call the “disinhibition effect” to their advantage, the capper will then convince the youth to send a “nude” of themselves with the understanding that they will keep it private and reciprocate with a picture of their own. Once the nude is sent, the capper will then reveal they are not who the target thought they were, and then use the nude to extort the youth for more inappropriate pictures.

Often, the Capper will demand that if the youth does not send more nudes, then they will post what they have obtained to parents and to every online social network that the youth frequents or has an account on. Out of fear, youth will often send more pictures to the capper believing that this will make them go away as promised, when the reality is it just makes the situation even worse, providing more ammo to the capper to use for the purpose of extortion, also known as “sextortion.”

Very recently, I helped a 16-year-old youth and their family deal with a capping incident that took place in a social network messaging service called Kik. Given the un-mediated and unsupervised nature of Kik, it makes it a very fertile environment for cappers. What I am about to share with you is what immediately happened after the trap has been sprung, and the youth took the bait and sent a nude. The white text is the capper’s messages and the pink is the youth:

I have helped a number of youth and their families deal with capping after they have fallen prey to these online predators. In almost every case of capping that I have assisted in, both as an online safety advocate and police officer, the above noted texting stream is a good example of what actually happens online once a nude has been sent.

There are some online safety advocates that state that these types of incidents are rare, and that only youth who are already at risk offline are more prone to this type of crime. Sorry to burst their bubble, but real experience has proven to me that being “capped” can happen to all youth, no matter what their “risk factors.” Prevention, in most cases, is all about education. Knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power. Many youth, although having heard about such cases, believe that “it will never happen to me.” Every capping survivor I have worked with believed this statement to be true.

Cappers are good at what they do. We parents need to compound our messages surrounding this online reality by 1) educating ourselves about this threat, and what we can do to defeat it, and 2) sharing the above noted information (in an age appropriate manner) with our kids in a way that is educationally enlightening and not just frightening. As a parent, share the above noted Kik texting stream with your kids and have the conversation. Actual real-world examples such as this can help sink the message into the under-developed frontal cortex (that part of the brain that helps us decide desirable from less-than-desirable actions) of most youth, especially when this message is compounded over time.

Digital Food For Thought

Darren Laur

AKA “The White Hatter”


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