Secret apps and what parents can do to protect teens

Sexting in schools is a growing problem, even with kids as young as fourth and fifth grades. Sure, you know about Snapchat and Instagram. What about Kik and AskFm? How about Omegle? And now, there are other apps out there to hide those apps.

Authorities are worried. It’s not just sharing inappropriate pictures and messages, but all of this is opening up our kids to becoming victims of sexual predators.

The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office has one of the leading programs in the country to not only take down predators, but also to educate kids and parents about the dangers. Mike Harris has been the leader of “The Cheezo Unit” since 1996. His team has arrested 853 predators. This year, they have already arrested 52 people.

We paid them a visit and were surprised at how quickly someone can get in trouble online. Harris was showing us an app called “Omegle” where users are anonymous. Child predators use the site to gather information on children. Within seconds, Harris, posing as a 14-year-old girl, was approached by a 45-year-old man. Within minutes, the suspect was asking to meet for sex. Harris said, “He is asking me what I like to keep secrets about.”

It’s not just apps, it’s online, in games, and in real life.

We met a 14-year-old girl who met a boy on Xbox Live. The boy claimed to be 11 years old. The girl got suspicious when he asked her to meet.

She said, “He didn`t want me to tell my parents. He said don`t tell your parents, they don`t need to find out, it`s just between you and me. That`s when I was like, ‘oh no, this is not good, what do I do?’ At that time, I didn`t know who to ask for help, at that time, I was too afraid to ask my parents, I was afraid they would be angry with me.”

Her parents did find out, likely just in time. Her mom told us, “That`s my biggest fear, she would meet with this guy. Who knows what would`ve happened. It`s creepy, it takes the innocence away from your kids, even being in your own home, playing a fun game. It`s scary because we are finding more and more kids making mistakes.”

Harris knows kids will make mistakes. He and the Cheezo Unit travel to schools around the metro area teaching children how to be safe online. His number one message to kids: only talk online to people you already know in person.

He said, “It`s so simple it sounds stupid but if you only talk to people you know face-to-face, then you don`t have to worry about meeting a creeper. Then all we have to worry about is the mistakes you make when you`re with your friends.”

And his number one piece of advice for parents: set parental controls on your child’s phone.

“For every app I tell you to worry about, there’s another app coming out that kids are already using, so the best way to combat that is to constantly check your kids’ apps. Is that a pain? Yes. But you can eliminate that pain by again putting the parental controls,” Harris said.

The email address given out on FOX31 Denver News at 9 on Tuesday night is no longer being monitored.