On July 26th 2019, the Sarasota County Sheriff Office announced that it had successfully arrested 25 people during a sting operation to protect kids from online predators and human trafficking. (1)
Sheriff Tom Knight revealed that the men arrested have a combined total of 38 prior charges and 15 prior convictions.
“[They] all utilize the internet and mobile applications to contact the children to have sex,” Knight said.
Knight also voiced his concern over how the “most frightening thing” was the access and exposure children have to the mobile apps, which connected them to the men arrested.
Since the arrests, the sheriff’s office and the Madill Police Department in Oklahoma, have released a list of 15 apps that parents and guardians should be on the lookout for.
15 Apps Parents Need to Know About
These were found to be the most commonly used apps for communication among predators. (2)
- MeetMe: A dating social media app that connects people based on location. Users are encouraged to meet in person.
- WhatsApp: A messaging app that allows texts, video calls, photo sharing and voicemails with users worldwide.
- Bumble: Similar to Tinder, but requires women to make the first contact. Law enforcement says kids and teens can create fake accounts and falsify their age.
- Live.Me: A live-streaming app that uses geolocation to share videos. The sheriff’s office said users can earn “coins” to “pay” minors for photos.
- Ask.FM: The sheriff’s office said this app lets users ask anonymous questions and is known for cyberbullying.
- Grindr: A dating app geared toward the LGBTQ community based on user location.
- TikTok: A new app popular with kids lets users create and share short videos. Law enforcement said the app has “very limited privacy controls” and users can be exposed to cyberbullying and explicit content.
- Snapchat: One of the most popular social media apps in the world, Snapchat lets users take and share photos and videos. The app also lets people see your location.
- Holla: This self-proclaimed “addicting” video chat app lets users meet people in seconds. Law enforcement said users have seen racial slurs and explicit content.
- Calculator+: Police say this is one of several apps that are used to hide photos, videos, files and browser history.
- Skout: A location-based dating app that is supposed to prohibit people under 17 from sharing private photos. However, police say kids can easily create an account with a different age.
- Badoo: A dating and social media app where users can chat and share photos and videos based on location. Police say the app is supposed to be for adults only, but they’ve seen teens create accounts.
- Kik: Police say kids can bypass traditional text messaging features using this app. Kik “gives users unlimited access to anyone, anywhere, anytime,” the sheriff’s office said.
- Whisper: An anonymous social network that lets users share secrets with strangers. Police say it also shows users’ location so people can meet up.
- Hot or Not: The app lets users rate profiles, check out people in their area and chat with strangers. Police say the goal of the app is to hook up.
How to Stay Safe Online
Parents and guardians should regularly engage in conversations about internet and phone safety with their children.
Police said parents and teens should always remember the following two things:
- Once a picture or video leaves your phone and is sent to someone else, it is out of your control.
- Someone can use that picture or video against you.
Sgt. Pat Voit with the Tampa Police Cyber Crimes Unit said, “We’ve seen attempts to extort kids for money,” (3)
That’s why it’s important to teach your kids not to share photos or any personal information (such as their name, age, location, interests) with online strangers.
Check out the website Netsmartz for additional guidelines to follow.
Warning Signs of an Online Predator Targeting Your Child:
- your child spends long hours online (especially late at night)
- phone calls from strangers
- unexpected gifts in the mail
- your child suddenly turns off the computer when you walk into the room
- your child withdraws from family routines
- your child is hesitant to discuss their online activities (4)
Warning Signs of cyber-bullying:
- visibly upset after using internet or phone
- unwilling to discuss online or phone activities
- withdrawal from family, friends, and interests
- skipping school or avoiding group activities
- unexplained poor behaviour
- decline in school performance
- mood swings
- changes in sleep and appetite
- visibly nervous when a phone or computer notification appears
- unexplained desire to avoid using computer or phone
- being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email (5)
Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678 and contact your local law enforcement if you discover any uploading, viewing, or sending of explicit materials involving children.