PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — Law enforcement agencies want parents and guardians to be aware of more than a dozen smartphone apps that may give those with bad intentions access to their children.
It’s not only important to know who your child is talking to but also who the creators are behind the apps.
“Kids are getting on these things in middle school and high school, and they're requesting photos, they're having conversations with a person who they think is their age, but God only knows who that individual might be,” exclaimed Cpl. Bryan Banner, a Community Engagement Deputy with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (PSCO).
“The last thing I would need is my son to have something going on at school and then feel as if he can't talk to me about it because, well, dad’s going to be upset or dad's going to be mad,” he added.
Cpl Banner wants parents and guardians to start conversations about social media now so that kids feel safe enough to speak up if something goes wrong in the future.
More common apps include Snap Chat, TikTok, and Whatsapp.
Less common apps are “Omegle,” which randomly pairs users in one-on-one chat sessions with anonymous names, and “Meet Me,” a dating app that matches people based on geographic proximity.
They also warn of cyberbullying on apps like “Hot or Not” and “Ask FM.”
In addition, one type of app parents should know in case kids are hiding something is called “Calculator.”
“We came across a calculator app which is used; it looks like a calculator on you download from the Apple store. But you put a pin number, and it opens up an area where we can store and hide other apps or compromising photos,” Banner explained.
It’s not just who may be on these apps that are a concern, but also who’s behind the software.
“Someone will download an app, and that app looks like a simple game that looks like it's fun for, you know, a 12-year-old, a 13-year-old,” explained Tech Expert and CEO of Sourcetoad Greg Ross-Munro. “But really, what it's doing is it's stealing your phone number, sending your GPS information to some sort of malicious websites that someone's tracking you on.”
Not all games are malware, but Ross-Munro advises parents to download malware scanning systems.
“Download malware scanning systems like Malwarebytes or Norton Antivirus. They make device versions for your devices for your kids' devices,” he said.
Banner stresses that open communication between parents and their children can stop bad things from happening in the future.
“It's bad enough that these things exist and the potential is there for victimization, human trafficking and like, but let's not have it metastasized into well, now, now my you know, my son or daughter is afraid to come talk to me about that,” Banner concluded. “It's important that parents have conversations with their kids about the dangers of social media.”
In light of recent school tragedies, the sheriff’s office is asking parents to also talk to their children about reporting any threats they may see on these apps, whether to one another or even their school or community.
Banner said parents can always consult with local law enforcement if they’re ever unsure about something taking place on social media or with an app.