OGDEN — If your kids have a phone, chances are they are using social media apps. Weber County detectives say parents must keep an eye on that activity. While there are dozens of apps out there, the detectives explain which are their top four to look out for and why.
“There are people out there who are actively looking to victimize children,” Detective Dustin Stewart told ABC4. Stewart is a detective with Weber County Sheriff’s Office and explained that online predators are more prevalent than parents may think.
He added: “It is absolutely happening in the community, and that’s why it’s very important for parents to be aware of what their kids are doing on their cellphones. That’s the first step from preventing it from happening.”
Stewart and a team of Weber County detectives work to find those looking to victimize kids online. They work with families who send in tips or file a report, and they also work proactively which means they use the apps to find potential predators before they strike.
“That’s what motivates me to come to work every day,” he stated. “You know, we’re never going to stop that. It’s never going to stop but we can absolutely do what we can to prevent it, and make sure that the 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 know about, but he explained that parents should start by knowing the top four apps to be monitoring: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.
Why these four? The detective explained, “Anybody, if their (a child’s) profile is public, can reach out to them and begin communicating with them.” These apps also allow the exchange of pictures and videos which make them higher risk as well. He said that the current generation of parents were taught about stranger danger when they were young. It is time for them to teach that to their own children, even if it looks a little different today. He continued, “It applies the same way online. Teach your kids to not interact with someone they don’t know in real life. If somebody reaches out to them that they have a bad feeling about, just ignore them and block them.”
Stewart explained that children can fall victim to many different types of crime online. However, the most common he and his fellow detectives deal with is sexual exploitation. He said a child can fall victim to this at the hand of someone they already know, but it is usually from a stranger the child befriended online.
“That person will start to ask and exchange images,” Detective Stewart stated. “Nude images or videos of the kid, and sometimes they will even go as far as, you know, the begin to blackmail the kid.” Stewart further explained that this extortion is done by threatening to release those images of the child to a larger audience unless the minor does what the predator says. Often, Stewart said, the child does not know how to respond and is too scared to tell a parent or guardian, that the problem only gets worse.
Nonetheless, there are signs parents can look out for in their children. Stewart explained that children who are victims of cybercrimes often display a change in behavior. He added that many kids become more agitated or angry with their parents. Along with that, the child or teen may become very secretive and protective of their phone and how they use it in front of adults.
If a parent is worried their child or teen may be a victim of a crime online, including sexual exploitation, law enforcement agencies have resources to help.
“If they’re afraid their kid has gotten into some trouble with someone online, just reach out to your local authorities, and talk to your kids about these things, educate them on the dangers of it, learn for yourself as a parent or caretaker,” Stewart added.
He also emphasized how much detectives want to help. He explained that they would rather have a false alarm than not have a parent send in a tip or file a report to only have a problem escalate into something even more serious.
As parents learn more about the apps their kids are using, Stewart said they will learn that many have some settings that allow a parent to restrict who their child can communicate with, who can see their child’s posts, and a filter to hide specific content from showing up on the home feed.