As technology improves, the methods of cyberbullying and child pornography have become more high-tech. Online predators will often monitor minors’ social media, such as Twitter and Instagram, start a conversation with them, and become friends with them.
These predators will “catfish” these kids, meaning they’ll use photos of a young boy, to trick the kids into thinking they’re talking to someone they’re not. They will invite these children to join online chat rooms or talk via ghost apps, where they oftentimes ask the child to send them a nude or sexy photo.
Child pornography is illegal to have on a device, even if the owner of the device is the one in the photo.
Det. Sgt. Lizabeth Rich with the Michigan State Police is on the Cyber Computer Crimes Unit/Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
“The most popular app we see is the calculator app,” she said. “We see it mostly with teenage kids, high-school age children.”
Rich recommends looking through your child’s phone settings to the storage page. If there’s an app, which is seemingly innocuous like a calculator, that uses a couple gigabytes of data, “that is generally the very first red flag that it is an app being used to disguise whatever activity.”
It’s also smart to open every app on the phone.
“If you open one and you have to use a pass code, that’s your first indicator that something is hidden there,” she said.
Spy Calc looks like a calculator and works as one, but if you put in a certain code, you can unlock hidden photos and videos. Another app, Hide It Pro, can hide other troubling apps your child doesn’t want you to see. These are called camouflage apps.
Look for apps like Keepsafe, Line, Whisper, Kik Messenger, and Smart Hide Calculator. They are hidden apps, or apps used to secretly send messages, photos and videos.
Be wary of Snapchat because those photos, videos and messages disappear after the receiver looks at them. Snapchat and Instagram are the most popular apps among children right now, Rich said.
“We see it (Instagram) being abused all the time. You can do secret chats on Instagram as well,” she said.
How to see if your child’s phone has hidden apps
Check their phones for duplicate apps, such as two calculators.
Go to the Google Play or Apple Store on their phone and search for apps using keywords “hidden apps,” “vault apps” or “private photos.” If the word “get” or “install” appears next to it, the app is not on their phone. If the word “open” or “uninstall” appears next to the app, the app is on their phone and they could be using it.
Recent sex trafficking operation found
Recently, seven men were charged with running a child pornography ring that took place in Michigan from 2015 to 2018, according to the FBI. This group would pretend to be teenagers on social media, such as Instagram, and invite female minors to visit chat rooms on a specific website.
The group would dare the girls to do various sexual acts on camera. Some people recorded the videos and distributed it to others.