A 12-year-old Hawke's Bay girl is one of a huge number of children targeted by a predator based in Ireland, New Zealand police say.

Alexander McCartney, a 21-year-old from Newry in Northern Ireland, allegedly used false identities on social media sites to urge children to send him naked pictures of themselves.

Detective Sergeant Heath Jones confirmed a 12-year-old girl from Hawke's Bay was among the huge number of children across the world targeted.

"Mobile devices are an important safety mechanism for modern families - but they also often mean that people can target children from anywhere, at any time," Jones said.


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It was important that parents speak to their children about appropriate and inappropriate contact, and how to stay safe online, he said.

"To help your children stay safe you can also make sure you know who your children are making contact with online and which social networking sites they're using.

"There now exists a wealth of information online to help parents to have a conversation with their children about online safety.

"There is educational material such as the Navigating the Journey resource created by Family Planning which has been adopted by a Hawke's Bay school cluster and Netsafe offers advice from online bullying through to creating a safety plan."

Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker told Newstalk ZB it was common for catfishes to hang around children's social media sites.

He said adults had many opportunities to connect with young people on the internet, and they take advantage of those opportunities.

Cocker said catfish cases were unusual, and when young people get caught up in it, they often don't know who to talk to about it.


He said it's important for young people to seek help straight away, rather than get themselves into further trouble.

BBC News reported McCartney's case had been described as the biggest catfish child abuse investigation in UK history in court.

The prosecutor told Newry Magistrate's Court last month they expected to identify thousands of new victims across the world, the BBC reported.

"There is a small sample being brought forward for prosecution, which is just the tip of the iceberg," he said.

The lawyer alleged the accused's modus operandi was to "blackmail young victims in to abuse" before trying to get their younger siblings or cousins involved, BBC News reported.

"The investigation is a mammoth task, which is based locally to as far as New Zealand.

"The US authorities have now contacted the PSNI in order to extradite the defendant."

According to BBC News the defendant was not in court for the hearing but appeared via video link from Maghaberry prison.

McCartney has remained in custody since his arrest in July and will re-appear next month.