PHOENIX — Do you know what your children are doing online? Many parents think they're on top of it, but more dangers are lurking in innocent apps, and even video games then you may realize.
ABC Action News' sister station in Phoenix sat down with Detective Scott Pietrzak, who is with the Mesa Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children unit to find out where they are finding child predators, and how they are targeting children. Pietrzak owns a business called Online Safety Specialists through which he gives seminars to community groups to talk to them about all of these dangers through first-hand experience.
Statistics show one out of every five teens has been contacted by a child predator online. Police believe that number may be higher, as many teens are not reporting these encounters. ABC15 is also learning that popular social media apps like Facebook and Twitter are not the apps child predators are using to "groom" and lure their victims.
"If you asked the kids about Facebook these days, they'll laugh at you and call you old for using Facebook," said Pietrzak.
The popular apps Messenger, Snapchat, and Instagram are predator hot zones according to police. But have you ever heard of chat apps like MocoSpace, Kik, Omegle, or Ask.fm, Telegram, or Whisper? Some of these apps even have locator pins that will show a stranger how far away you are from them.
Pietrzak said many of these apps are popular because of the video chat feature, liked by teens and loved by predators who want to use it to get to know their victims as well.
When it comes to monitoring your child's online activities, Pietrzak stressed it was no time to be your teen's "best friend."
"That is when you need to be a parent, talk to them, and set some boundaries. A lot of parents don't even know what their kid's screen names and passwords are," said Pietrzak.
Throughout his years working in the police department, Pietrzak estimated his unit had put hundreds of child predators behind bars. Some of the suspects were school teachers, coaches, and daycare staff.
"Everyone I put away is one less I have to worry about trying to contact my kids," said Pietrzak.
In his seminars, he went over popular apps that parents need to be wary of. He taught lingo used by teens while texting that could seem like a foreign language to some parents.
He showed a group of parents the words AITRGTG Code 8 :* and asked them if they knew what that meant if they saw it in their child's phone.
Not a single parent was able to decode that. Pietrzak explained it meant "adult in the room, got to go, parent is listening, kissy face."
You can find other common "lingo" used by teens at sites dedicated to family safety.
In addition to apps, Pietrzak also warned parents about a logo they should watch out for on their child's computer. It is a symbol that resembles an onion and is known as the Tor browser, used to get on the dark web.
"Parents should look for either Tor, the onion router, or dot-onion websites," said Pietrzak.
Police say they have seen many cases involving teens buying drugs through the dark web. 'Marketplaces' on the dark web deal with bitcoins, but detectives say most teens have the technical know-how to get onto the dark web and get access to bitcoins.
There are sites selling hardcore drugs like heroin, cocaine, and all kinds of prescription drugs on the dark web. Pietrzak said it unnerved him to think about how easy the dark web made it for people to get ahold of dangerous drugs coming from another country. Many of these drugs could be laced with the deadly drug fentanyl that can kill you, even if a very small amount is ingested.
"It's coming straight to your house. A parent won't know. It could be inside of a CD. It could be inside of a DVD box. A parent will think you're getting a movie or something and there it is," said Pietrzak.
KNXV-TV then looked at a website dedicated to chatting with strangers with Pietrzak. He started up a conversation with a man in Europe who said he was 26. Within less than three minutes the conversation turned from playing the online video game Fortnite to the man who believed he was communicating with a 14-year old girl, asking "so, do you do naughty stuff?"
KNXV-TV asked Pietrzak about apps that are out there that can let teens hide stuff they don't want their parents to see on their phones. For instance, most of you may have heard of Instagram, or Insta but have you heard of Finsta, or fake Insta? Many teens are showing the Instagram accounts to their parents, but then using their "finsta" accounts to communicate with their 'friends.'
Pietrzak said he knew of one such app that looked like a calculator.
In addition to online predators, cyberbullying was also a very big concern with teens spending so much time online. Some of the apps have been linked to teen suicides across the nation.
You can read more about the popular apps teens are using here.