Stalking Children – There’s An App For That
How many parents have smart phones and other mobile devices which contain apps their children play? How many children have iPods, iPads, iPhones, or other such devices that allow game applications using wifi or any form of connection to social interactions?
Are children safe using those Free or .99 app downloads? They download onto the device with a sweet little icon of a silly bird or pretty princess or some cartoon character that is a must-have for a young fan.
What could possibly be harmful about a game on a mobile device?
You’ve taken all the necessary precautions. Your child isn’t allowed to have Yahoo! messenger, Facebook, or any other social chat application, and they aren’t allowed to use the phone function. Perhaps they have a smart phone that is not connected for phone use, but the Wi-Fi works just fine so they can play their cool little games.
Well, what a lot of parents don’t know is that many of these seemingly harmless game apps contain in-game chat features. Game app hosts, such as Game Center, are even now demanding users agree to a new policy that allows everyone you are connected to in your game apps under their provider be sent your personal information — i.e. real name and location used in your iTunes billing. Game apps are more intrusive than they once were, and children are becoming easier targets than ever.
In addition to game apps with chat, there are various chat apps that range from free to costing several dollars. The most dangerous for children are the ones that ensure secrecy, such as TigerText. Some of these apps even have a disguised icon and can be hidden on the device. This is why parents should always, always check their accounts associated with the device their child uses. These accounts will list all downloads, including free ones. Examine all apps before allowing your child to use them by reading the description as well as user reviews.
This is an example of TigerText from an Android website:
It’s quite frightening when you think this could be a conversation between an 11 year old girl and a 30 year old man. “Erin” could very well be that 30 year old man. It doesn’t take much to steal photos and names with personal details from sites like flikr, Photobucket, and Facebook.
I received a private comment a few days ago by a terrified mom. She discovered her daughter had been in communications with an identity thief who had convinced her to divulge all of the family’s personal information, such as siblings’ names, parents’ names, birthdays, locations, and other private matters. This all took place through the chat feature of a game her daughter played on an iPhone with its phone service disabled.
It was bad enough to discover this grown man’s interactions with her very young daughter. After seeking help from law enforcement, the mother learned this man had stolen the identity of a dead military man.
Perhaps this man isn’t a sexual predator. Perhaps he wasn’t seeking to do her daughter or other children physical harm. This man is none-the-less an identity thief, one who could be using the open honesty of children to gather information to steal and sell private information to other identity thieves.
This mom and any parent in this situation has a right and a reason to be scared and angry. What they should not feel is hopeless. Unfortunately, the man committed no crime against this family by merely speaking to the girl, so the mother cannot receive official help as of yet. However, she is anything but helpless and this situation, though frightening and grim, is anything but hopeless.
This was my public response to her unpublished comment, relevant paragraphs only, to pass on my personal advice within this article:
Dear Devastated Parent:
[…]I need to first tell you that I am not an employee of any branch of law enforcement, nor am I qualified to give out legal advice. I am a volunteer who has worked side by side with LE.
That being said, I AM a parent and a concerned citizen and have every right to advise you on those terms.
If you still have access to chat messages and anything at all passed between them, take screen shots of them all. Do you know how to do that? Press the Home button at the bottom of the flat screen and the power button at the same time while on the page you wish to “photograph”.
Anything that was passed between them via chat can sometimes be saved to a file. I’m not sure what game this was or if it has the feature to save chats. Check it out.
It doesn’t matter if anyone tells you that you cannot be helped under whatever circumstance they give. Gathering the information in one nice neat pile as soon as possible and as it happens when possible will help when action is finally able to be taken (if it is needed).
Make sure any law enforcement officer you speak with gives you a case #. If they don’t provide you with one, tell them you want a file started on this immediately and you want the case number. In my experience, if you ask, they must open a file for you and add to it anytime you call them with another bit of information. I don’t know if this is true in all states, but it has been in ones I have been a part of. This way, there is an official jacket in the event this person tries to contact your child or your family. It adds up and shows a pattern they cannot deny in court.
As for safety concerns, I completely understand your fear. Do you still have access to the account? Did you or your daughter send this person a final message?
This is what I would do: I would send the person a message and inform them that the police have been made aware of their activity. I would tell them the police have screen shots and copies of everything, and that there is a report on file. Tell the person you have saved everything and are prepared to turn over the device and access to your account for the police to find them should they continue to try and contact your child or anyone in your family. (And yes, the FBI can do this if it comes down to it, and the FBI CAN and WILL become involved if this is occurring across state lines. Even inside the same state if necessary.). Tell them in no uncertain terms that they are never to contact your child again. Then leave it at that. Remove them from any account she has. If they try to be re-added, send that into the police for the file, as well. It goes to show contact/stalking of a minor against the parent’s wishes. Make sure you save a copy or a screen shot of the message you send the person. Don’t let your child back into the app, but you monitor it, yourself, to see if they try to contact her again.
PS: Also, iTunes has a Terms of Service area. Read through it and see if this person violated anything. Contact iTunes and tell them of this person, too, and provide them the username associated with the game. I’m not sure what they can do, if anything, but again, you will have a report out there about this person. And iTunes will now have a report about this person in the event they do it again. Quite possibly, this person has been reported to iTunes already. This could be cause for iTunes to contact the FBI or some other agency that can stop this person. You can call the iTunes office, as well, and inquire about what you can do and what they can do to better protect kids from this person.
After leaving this comment, I went in search of various ways parents can better monitor their children’s activities on their mobile devices. We cannot stop the predators from their attempts to reach our children in these ways, but we have all the power on our end to stop them from succeeding. Short of not giving a child such a device to begin with, there are other ways to monitor what they do and with whom they communicate.
MobiStealth – Parental Control and Monitoring Software The information for this says it is for Android, but I found that it can be purchased for most mobile phones. There are several separate features that can be purchased, as well, which include but are not restricted to tracking text messages and phone calls, location of the device, web and picture history, and reverse look-up for unfamiliar numbers that have called the device.
Mobile-Spy Software for Smartphones This does the same as above but seems to be compatible with more devices.
Spy Phone Apps This is a website that lists several other choices in mobile monitoring technology.
(I do want to mention that it appears there are other reasons someone may want to install such software into a mobile device, some possibly nefarious. I was somewhat shocked at the capabilities of these items, and it compels me to post this warning to all readers that although these can be useful tools in protecting children and keeping ones personal property safe, they can, also, be used to spy on innocent adults and even victims of domestic violence. I am quite sure stalkers can put this to good use, as well, especially boyfriends and girlfriends in teen dating abuse situations.)
In the event you feel this is invading a child’s personal space and in some way showing them you don’t trust them, and this somehow bothers you, you need to remember they are children. There should never be an issue of invasion of privacy when ensuring your child’s safety. The relationship between a parent and a child is one of protector and protected, defender and defended. We are parents first before anything else, and friend only after our parental duties are met. If you have a problem distinguishing this, you should visit your local police department and view the hundreds of files of juvenile cases, both victim and perpetrator, stemming from parental neglect. And make no mistake. Refusing to do everything you can to protect your child from the very real dangers we know are in this world is neglect.
We cannot protect our children from everything, but we don’t have to make it easy for predators, either. These people go for easy targets first and tend to pass up those with attentive and safety-conscious parents and care-givers. Don’t let your child be an easy target by leaving the window wide open. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and hand them the keys to your house. Don’t hand a predator the key to your child.
(Among others, I am tagging this article under Grooming Techniques because game chat is a popular new way of grooming children.)
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