OGDEN – If your kids have a phone, chances are they’re using social media apps. Weber County detectives say parents need to keep an eye out for this activity. Although there are dozens of apps, the sleuths explain what their top four apps to look out for and why.
“There are people who actively seek to victimize children,” Detective Dustin Stewart told ABC4. Stewart is a detective with the Weber County Sheriff’s Office and explained that online predators are more prevalent than parents realize.
He added: “It is absolutely happening in the community, and that is why it is very important for parents to be aware of what their children are doing on their mobile phones. This is the first step to prevent this from happening.
Stewart and a team of Weber County detectives work to find those who seek to victimize children online. They work with families who send tips or file a report, and they also work proactively, meaning they use the apps to find potential predators before they strike.
“That’s what motivates me to come to work every day,” he said. “You know, we will never stop this. It’s never going to stop, but we absolutely can do what we can to prevent it and make sure kids stay safe on the internet.
The team will continue to work to help prevent and stop online crimes. However, according to Stewart, parents are the first line of defense. There are dozens of apps parents should be aware of, but he explained parents should start by knowing the top four apps to watch: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.
Why these four? The detective explained: “Anyone, if his (child’s) profile is public, can contact him and start communicating with him.” These applications also allow the exchange of images and videos, which also makes them more risky. He said the current generation of parents learned about the danger of strangers when they were young. It’s time for them to teach that to their own children, even if it looks a little different today. He continued: “It applies equally online. Teach your children not to interact with someone they don’t know in real life. If someone reaches out to them and they have a bad feeling, just ignore them and block them.
Stewart explained that children can be victims of many different types of crimes online. However, the most common problem he and his fellow detectives face is sexual exploitation. He said a child can experience it from someone they already know, but it’s usually a stranger the child has befriended online.
“That person will start asking and exchanging images,” Detective Stewart said. “Nude pictures or videos of the kid, and sometimes they’ll even go so far as to, you know, start blackmailing the kid.” Stewart further explained that this extortion is done by threatening to release these images of the child to a wider audience unless the minor does what the predator says. Often, Stewart said, the child doesn’t know how to react and is too scared to tell a parent or guardian that the problem is only getting worse.
Nevertheless, there are signs that parents can watch out for in their children. Stewart explained that child victims of cybercrimes often display behavioral change. He added that many children become more agitated or angry with their parents. Along with this, the child or adolescent can become very secretive and protective of their phone and the way they use it in front of adults.
If a parent is concerned that their child or teen may be a victim of online crime, including sexual exploitation, law enforcement agencies have resources to help.
“If they are worried that their child has had trouble with someone online, just contact your local authorities and talk to your children about these things, educate them about the dangers, learn for yourself as a parent or guardian,” Stewart added.
He also emphasized how much detectives want to help. He explained that they would rather have a false alarm than not ask a relative to tip or file a report so that a problem escalated into something even more serious.
As parents learn more about the apps their children use, Stewart said they’ll learn that many have settings that allow a parent to restrict who their child can communicate with, who can see messages. of its child and a filter to hide specific content from appearing on the home feed.