The FBI says a growing number of sexual predators are posing as “tweens” and befriending children and young teens by using apps such as Kik, Snapchat, Instagram and ooVoo.
“They use social engineering and they use cons to get these kids to build up that trust in that relationship and then possibly send images,” FBI Special Agent Wes Tagtmeyer said.
A Chicago mother said her 11-year-old daughter sent naked photos of herself to someone she met on a popular social media site two years ago and the recipient was someone who claimed to be a boy at her school.
“I think she probably felt special that he was asking for pictures and he kept asking and asking and she said ‘No’ and then it was like, ‘You go first’,” the mother recalled. NBC Connecticut is not using the mother’s name in order to protect the identity of her daughter.
The mother said she found photos of both of her child and the other person on her mobile phone.
Police never found the person responsible for soliciting photos from her daughter, but word of the incident spread.
“Once you put a picture out there it really does grow like grassfire,” she said.
The mother said it was a difficult lesson to learn and two years later, the incident still impacts her child.
“We try to help her deal with the feelings and the regret,” the mother said.
The FBI said predators might also threaten victims into sending more photos in a growing crime known as sextortion.
“The subject comes back and says ‘if you don’t do this or send a more explicit image or video for me, then I’m going to send this image to your parents’,” Tagtmeyer said.
According to the FBI, the average age of a sextortion victim is 14. The FBI has investigated victims as young as 8-years-old.
The FBI recommends parents closely monitor their childrens’ mobile device usage and have age-appropriate discussions about the dangers of communicating with strangers online and sending photos and videos.
They also urge parents not to allow their children to charge their devices in their bedrooms at night and to set up passwords for downloading apps.
Curran Dee is just 9 years old, but already uses social media in the classroom and at home.
He and his mother, Marialice, are learning the virtual world together and they share a Twitter handle, in part, so that she can keep a close eye on him.
“I can check direct messages, I can check who’s following him, just to make sure he’s being safe, being ethical, being savvy,” Marialice said. “It’s my responsibility.”
NBC Connecticut reached out to Kik, Snapchat, Instagram and ooVoo for comment and a spokesperson for ooVoo responded by saying the company takes security and privacy issues very seriously and roots out and deletes any suspicious accounts against which suspicious behaviors have been reported.
A Kik spokesman told us the company is addressing parents’ safety concerns and offers a Guide For Parents.
As a company, Instagram says it has zero tolerance when it comes to content or behavior that puts the privacy and safety of minors at risk, and that its team is ready to provide support 24/7.
Snapchat has more than 100 million daily users and has a dedicated team that reviews abuse reports and takes action when they become aware of a violation. It also partners with safety experts to help parents, teachers and teens find safety tips.