Predators Are Now Targeting Kids With Apps

In March, a 14-year-old Tampa girl got on a bus headed to Mexico with a 25-year-old sex offender she’d met through Kik, a smartphone messaging app.

Smartphone applications and social media, used by tech-savvy children to communicate with each other outside the prying eyes of parents, are being exploited by predators, according to law enforcement, who say bad guys use the technology to find and manipulate vulnerable victims.

A St. John’s County man used Facebook to meet and extort hundreds of young girls nationwide into allowing him to take pornographic pictures of them via their Web cameras. He later told detectives he targeted children because adult women were “too smart” to fall for his scheme.

Investigators found thousands of videos and photos on his computers, including recordings of girls crying and pleading with him to stop and one girl holding a hand-written sign with a single word: “rape.”

“It’s not just apps, but the Internet in general,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacie Harris, who prosecutes these kinds of cases. “Giving kids access to the Internet is like putting them on a street corner in New York City. Everybody has access to them.”

Parents “should consider it as a growing trend that they need to stay on top of to ensure the safety of their children,” said Tampa police officer Derek Lang. “It is prevalent in today’s world that this is happening. Any kid from any community can fall victim to something like this.”

For more on this story, visit Elaine Silvestrini (Tampa Tribune)