KITCHENER -- Three people from Kitchener and one from Cambridge are facing a combined 13 charges as a result of a child sexual exploitation investigation.

The investigation, called Project Derby, focused on "identifying persons actively luring children on social media for sexual purposes," a news release from the OPP read in part.

Officials said six trained police investigators went undercover to get into online chatrooms and social media apps designed for kids. In that way, they identified, found and arrested people who were looking to sexually exploit kids in the region.

Their investigation took place over the course of three days in November 2020.

Altogether, the investigators communicated with 36 people in conversations that went beyond introductions.

"The investigation focused on identifying persons who were actively luring children on social media for sexual purposes," said Insp. Brenna Bonn with Waterloo regional police.

In many cases, the investigators established ages that were "well outside" consensual parameters. While they included "inappropriate sexualized content," the OPP said that some didn't pass the threshold of committing a criminal offence.

The accused range in age from 30 to 50 years old. Three of the suspects were arrested when they arrived to meet a child for sexual purposes. One person traveled from another region to meet the child.

"The three-day investigation is a snapshot of the dangers children face online," the OPP news release read in part.

"Investigators accessed online chat rooms and social media applications as millions of children do every day."

Police charged a 46-year-old Kitchener man with invitation to sexual touching, making child pornography, two counts of luring a person under 16 and two counts of uttering threats.

Another Kitchener man, 48, was charged with luring a person under 16, making sexually explicit material available to a child and two counts of agreeing or arranging to commit a sexual offence against a child.

A 50-year-old Kitchener man was charged with two counts of luring a person under 16. A 30-year-old Cambridge man was charged with one count of luring a person under 16.

"It's important for parents to know that, literally every day, wherever their kids are, whatever platform they are on, there will be offenders there potentially trying to make connections with them," said Det. Sgy. Brian McDermott with the OPP. "The numbers speak for themselves, the calls for service are increasing, the social media, especially with COVID, kids are online, offenders are online."

"We have members assigned to the provincial unit and, every day, they're dealing dealing with the tips that they receive and they're just investigating," Bonn said. "It's a daily occurrence."

The concerns have only grown during the pandemic, since people are spending more time online.

"It can happen so fast," McDermott said. "We deal with victims where they can be sitting in the same room as their parents and just not speaking about it."

"A lot of these predators are even instructing children to get headphones to mask their conversations," said Charlene Doak-Gerbauer, founder and chair of Internet Sense First.

Doak-Gerbauer recommends families put together a digital supervision contract.

"You talk about rules, what's going to happen with cell phones, digital devices, when to turn them off and on, parents have passwords," she said. "With a contract you're telling your children who's in charge, but you're giving your children a chance to be a part of the whole process in setting the rules."