Predators using apps to target children

These are the apps the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in Florida is warning parents about. Some of the icons in the App store have changed, but the content still works as described.

Do you know what apps your children have on their phones?

Some predators now use apps to target children and try to lure them into some pretty bad things.

This has parents, like Tina Randles of Fresno, doing her homework – on her two teenage sons.

"We can go into their history and it's set to up to see what they've been doing. So you can see what they're looking at," Randles says, as she looks through a computer in her home.

It’s not something her parents ever did.

"When I was a kid I didn't have a computer," she says.

But it’s now a necessity.

“They're pretty smart about that because we keep the communication open about that sort of thing," Randles says.

It’s something, detectives say, more parents need to do.

"Kids are pretty advanced using cell phones and social media apps,” says Fresno County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeff Kertson. “It's important for parents to understand what their children are doing online."

Kertson works with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force that serves Central California.

It receives more than 1,4000 reports about questionable contacts and content every year.

That’s almost four reports every day.

"We've had children as young as six on social media who have been victimized in horrific fashion over the internet and using web-based video, social media apps and things like that,” Kertson said.

He says the most popular apps are also the ones that send over the most reports.

"Facebook, Instagram and Google,” he says. “I wouldn't say they're bad apps. I think that one, it's the level of users and activity and also I think those businesses are proactive with law enforcement and they want to capture and protect the users as much as they can."

In May, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in Florida arrested 21 accused child predators.

They responded to internet-based ads, online apps and social media sites.

"Many of these men sent explicit photos of themselves. Offered to buy drugs for these children. One agreed he would stay with her if he got her pregnant. That's a 14-year-old girl he thought he was talking to," said Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight.

His office released a chart with some of the apps parents need to know about.

They were used by the accused predators during the operation.

"The LIVE ME app uses live video streaming using geolocation services showing where you're at any given time,” Knight said.

WHISPER is another anonymous social network.

"Also reveals the users exact locations so that in seconds a predator can know where your child is at, through the app," Knight said.

ASK.FM allows anonymous people to ask questions.

It can also be used for cyberbullying.

BUMBLE is similar to Tinder.

But kids have been known to create fake profiles and ages.

Kertson says it's important for parents to know what apps and sites their kids are using, know how they work, and get their kids' passwords.

And they need to teach their kids not to share everything.

"That child predator is trying to get their name, information, what school they go to. It's not uncommon for children to give this information up," Kertson said.

If you find your child is being targeted, Kertson says time is crucial.

Teach them to block or unfriend the person.

Make a report with the website or app.

And get screengrabs, if possible.

"This information is perishable," Kertson said.

He says that if you find someone is inappropriately reaching out to your kids, do not take matter into your own hands.

Contact law enforcement.

"You risk getting hurt and there could be evidence destroyed that we'd need to win a case," he said.

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