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An inside look: Protecting your children from dangerous apps

As parents, it can be difficult keeping up with the growing list of technological changes affecting children.

New apps are constantly being created, and sexual predators are moving just as quickly to reach children ahead of parental warnings.

To help protect kids in Oklahoma, we asked internet crime investigators to take us undercover to expose the pitfalls of some social media apps.

“Parents need to realize that when these apps are being used, this is somebody looking into your child’s personal life,” Captain Adam Flowers, an investigator for the Canadian County Sheriff Department, has worked cyber-crimes since 2011.

He says KIK, Snapchat, Whats App, Meet Me and Live.Me are just a few of the apps trending in 2018.

Flowers uses ‘decoy’ accounts to intercept potential predators on a variety of social media platforms.

Court records and dash camera video from an arrest provide evidence of predators encourage children to engage in unsafe behaviors.

Bobby Thomas, 27, began communicating with a ‘child’ on Meet Me. He is accused of sending nude photos to a supposed 14-year-old girl.

“She said she was 14 or 15, but I thought it was 15,” Thomas apologized to officers at the time of his arrest. “I’m sorry guys this is my first time.”

Gary Goodgion, 55, first connected with his victim on Facebook. Court records detail sexually explicit conversations Goodgion had with a girl he believed to be only twelve.

Mike Goddard admitted to establishing fake accounts on Facebook, KIK, and Skype to meet teens and convince them to send him nude photos.

In each case, said Flowers, the suspects pushed to meet the child.

He says dangerous apps have one thing in common — they put the user in public view.

“People see the fresh meat and they just jump,” Special Agent Jordan Solorzano works in the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC unit.

Undercover stings taking predators out of action are now routine, which is good, but it also shows threats are real.

Mostly, it’s important to know what each and every app does, and constantly monitor what your child downloads.

The dangerous apps can expose your children to a range of things from bullying and unwanted sexual messages, some apps can even give strangers your child’s location.

Here’s what you can do to help protect your children:

  • Approve every app on your kid’s phone
  • Check privacy settings
  • Talk with your kids about phone use, apps, and social media with your kid
  • Find out what is popular in your region, different apps catch on in different locations

Here are the apps the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is warning against:

BUMBLE is similar to the popular dating app “Tinder,” however it requires women to make the first contact. Kids have been known to use Bumble to create fake accounts and falsify their age.

LIVE.ME is a live-streaming video app that uses geolocation to share videos so users can find out a broadcaster’s exact location. Users can earn “coins” as a way to “pay” minors for photos.

ASK.FM is known for cyber bullying. The app encourages users to allow anonymous people to ask them questions.

SNAPCHAT is one of the most popular apps of 2018. While the app promises users can take a photo/video and it will disappear, recent features including “stories” allows users to view content for up to 24 hours. Snapchat also allows users to see your location.

HOLLA is a self-proclaimed “addicting” video chat app that allows users to meet people all over the world in just seconds. Reviewers say they have been confronted with racial slurs, explicit content and more.

CALCULATOR% is only one of several secret apps used to hide photos, videos, files and browser history.

KIK allows anyone to contact and direct message to your child. Kids can bypass traditional text messaging features. KIK gives users unlimited access to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

WHISPER is an anonymous social network that promotes sharing secrets with strangers. It also reveals a user’s location so people can meet up.

HOT OR NOT encourages users to rate your profile, check out people in their area and chat with strangers. The goal of this app is to hook up.

Author: Lisa Monahan, News 9
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