By Rachel Dove
CHARLESTON – Police are issuing an important warning for parents:
“Online predators are now using some smart phone apps to target kids.”
Would you give your cell phone number to a complete stranger? That’s essentially what police say some kids are doing on social media websites when they post their screen names to messenger apps. This could give a predator an open invitation to a conversation with your child.
It’s no secret some social media websites can be a breeding ground for online predators, but now police said a few newer apps for your smart phones make it easier for the wrong people to send or solicit inappropriate pictures to and from minors.
“It’s getting out of control,” Cpl. M. Moore of the West Virginia State Police said. “I don’t know where the stop button is.”
Moore is investigating an alleged online predator who reached out to a minor through the app “Kik.”
“It was a conversation with someone the minor didn’t know and it quickly turned sexual in nature,” Moore said.
Kik and similar apps can be used with wi-fi, and a lot of children use the messaging part so it won’t eat up their data plan. According to Moore, here’s how it works:
Children post their screen names on sites like Facebook and Twitter, quickly creating an open season for a child predator.
“They go to town,” Moore said. “It’s all anonymous, and they can just go to town with this info before anyone is aware that anything’s going on.”
Another app to worry about is “snapchat.” This is a picture-messaging application, but the picture goes away within 10 seconds of being sent, giving people a false sense of security that what they’re sending cannot be saved. That is not true, however; because the recipient can “screen-shot” the photo as soon as it’s received, saving it to their phone.
“There’s the possibility there’s no evidence,” Moore said. “But there’s always a chance it was saved before it disappeared.”
“Think about what you send and receive,” the trooper said. “And please, don’t just hand an iPad or cellphone to a kid. Teach them safety and set up parental guards and locks to decide what you allow your children access to. Most important of all, teach them to never talk to anyone they don’t know on an app.”
“Never assume anything is private - once it’s on the Internet, it’s out there forever.”