Law enforcement warns parents of online risks

WOODSTOCK – Parents: Know what apps and websites your child is using with their electronic device.

That was the message from members of the Woodstock police and the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C., Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, who spoke to about a dozen people Thursday about potential dangers on the internet.

Chad Morris, special agent of the Virginia State Police assigned to the task force, said parents need to be proactive and be involved in their children’s lives.

In one year, from Sept. 1, 2017 to Sept. 1, 2018, Morris said the task force investigated 1,099 reports of sexual exploitation and made 264 arrests.

Morris said parents should establish a relationship of trust with their child so that if something happens, the child feels comfortable coming to a parent. The parents, he said, should have passwords for their children’s electronic devices and should routinely check them to see what apps their child is using and review what is on their phones (including photos and messages)

“The best way is to have a rapport with kids. Let them know, ‘You have to trust me. I am not going to beat you up, but when you see something bad or if someone starts asking you questions come to me. It may be an adult,'” Morris said.

He noted that parents should assume their child will be contacted by a stranger and prepare them for how that might be done and what that person might say. Parents,  he added, should instill in their child the importance of telling them immediately when someone attempts to contact them.

Morris stressed that parents should not confront the stranger, block him or just ignore the matter. They should immediately report it either to the task force or to an investigator with a local department.

It is important not to scare the person off the app, he said. Your child may be safe,  but the stranger could be grooming or engaging many more kids, and law enforcement needs to stop him before he hurts others, Morris said. For example, one child and his family reported an incident and Morris found during the subsequent investigation that the suspect had been communicating with about 300 other children.

Parents should also know about and look for hidden apps on their child’s device.

Morris said a red flag is multiple apps, such as three calculator apps on a cell phone.

A hidden app may look like a legitimate app, but when clicked it needs a password or code to open. These hidden apps, once opened may reveal photographs and messages a child did not want anyone to see.

Woodstock police officer Josh Wilberger advised parents of apps and websites to be on the watch for, stressing children will probably not be using the same ones as their parents.

“Teens strive for privacy and independence and will seek out lesser known apps to communicate and share information with their friends,” Wilberger said.

They may, however, be communicating with someone who is an adult posing as a teenager. Children could also be experiencing bullying on some of these apps.

Wilberger noted some apps that are popular with children:

• imgur – a photo hosting app where members can anonymously upload photos and view photos.

• tumblr – a microblogging app where users can post multimedia.

* kik –  a free messaging app.

* WhatsApp – the largest messaging service in the world.

* yubo – a social networking app marketed to children 13 to 17 years old.

* Discord – a free voice/text chat app.

* Yik Yak – an online bulletin board.

* ask.fm – a Latvian-based app that allows users to ask and answer questions.

* Whisper – an app used to anonymously share feelings with pictures and words.

Wilberger said some websites parents should watch for the 4Chan  and  8Chan apps.

K.P. and Nadine Patel, of Woodstock, were among the parents at the presentation.

They have two teenage children and they worry about them.

“This is the reality today,” K.P. Patel said. “You cannot have enough knowledge.”

More Information

To report an incident to the task force or for additional information, go to http://novadcicac.org.