PERVERTS are potentially using World Cup Panini stickers to target youngsters keen to complete their collections.
Peterlee Neighbourhood Policing Team is taking the unusual step of hosting a Panini World Cup Swap Shop to provide a safe environment for youngsters to meet and exchange the sought-after cards.
Police chiefs stress there have been no reported grooming incidents in the area linked to the craze, which has seen people take to social media sites to arrange to swap stickers.
But they admit: “It’s something you read about every day – and you don’t know who you are going to meet.”
Online child protection chiefs have hailed the police’s innovative way of tackling online child exploitation issues.
People are using social networking sites like Twitter to ask if anyone has certain Panini World Cup stickers they can trade, using the hashtags #swapshop or #gotgotneed.
But police are reminding computer users to be aware that people online aren’t always who they say they are.
Inspector Dave Coxon, of Peterlee Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “We are looking at lots of different issues like internet safety and child protection issues and child exploitation.
“There have been a lot of requests from people for something like this following a discussion about people swapping Panini cards.
“It’s quite an innovative way to get the message across to the public while allowing kids to swap cards in a safe environment.
“There has been a lot of talk about it on social media and Facebook. “But what we don’t want is people going to meet complete strangers where they have no idea who they are meeting.
“We are not aware of any incidents happening, especially not specifically in our area. “But it’s in the papers every day – you hear about adults exploiting young people. It’s a constant message from us of protecting children.”
The swap shop idea is being led by PCSO Andy Gilhooley, who was a Panini sticker fan as a child and is still a big fan.
As well as internet safety and cyber-bullying, the police will use the event to engage with local people on other community issues.
A spokesman for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) said: “With the World Cup these sticker albums are a means people with an interest in children or young people might use and they might want to arrange meetings with children.
“They will use any means at their disposal, pretending to be someone or something else. It’s something that people might seek to exploit, “This seems like a good piece of innovation from the police.
“For children, parents and teachers and anyone else with an interest in child protection we will refer them to www.thinkuknow.co.uk