Protecting kids on social media; use your head, not your feet

Posted at 7:58 AM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 12:51:19-04

BOISE, Idaho — 800 million.

That’s the number of active users on TikTok as of 2019. It’s one of the most downloaded apps in the world.

Social media is a great outlet to connect with friends and family, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. Like anything else, social media can appear fun upfront, but it can also present dangers for kids.

Corporal David Gomez, also known as “Deputy Gomez” to his nineteen thousand Facebook followers, is a school resource officer for the Boise County Sheriff’s Office. He’s telling us, “I started seeing a lot of girls posting pictures of their feet saying they were getting $20.”

Gomez uses fake social media accounts to track runaways and hunt online predators. During his online investigations, he learned predators are using TikTok solicit kids for pictures of their feet in exchange for money. Predators are paying anywhere from $10 to $30 for images of feet using Paypal, Venmo, and Cashapp to pay their victims.

But, Gomez wants to be clear, “it’s not just TikTok. It’s Facebook. It’s Instagram and Snapchat it’s roadblocks, it’s Minecraft, it’s fortnight all of those.” Predators will also use Snapchat, WhatsApp, or Text Now to communicate with victims.

We asked Gomez how old the average victim in the Treasure Valley is. He says, “I’ve gone out to reports of eight and nine-year-olds sending pictures out not for money, but for either sextortion or just because older boys ask them to. Or, sometimes somebody comes across on the other end, and they’re super scary about it, and it causes [minors] to send pictures.”

The Commander of Idaho’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Chris McCormick, says, once a predator has a child’s picture, then come the threats. He tells Idaho News 6, “you know I got this. I’m going to disclose this to your friends and family unless you give me this, and each thing you asked for is going to be more egregious.”

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, McCormick says they’ve seen an uptick in local exploitation. He thinks it could be in part because “kids are now doing a lot of their learning online, or some of them don’t have an online component where they’ve got nothing to do but to communicate with her friends via social media.”

So parents, here’s what you can do to protect your kids:

1.Build your family
Gomez says, “it’s the strongest thing you can do to help the social media issues.”

2. Set guidelines
McCormick says, “If you wouldn’t let a boy into your daughter’s room at 2 o’clock in the morning, why on earth would you give him or her A phone or device where they’ve got the ability to FaceTime with anybody in the world.”

3. Be open and honest with your kids
McCormick also says, “parents need to talk honestly and openly with their kids. Let them know when and where they’re going to use their devices. More importantly, make sure that your kids know that if they get themselves in a bad position, they can come to you with this.”

4. Contact local police immediately
While sending a naked photo of yourself is a misdemeanor, Gomez says, “most police departments now will count that person as a victim and not charge them. It’s worth contacting the police we have diversion programs. Most times we will not get the kid in trouble if parents come to us and say I need help my kid sent out a naked picture it’s getting out of hand the police will step in we know how to stop those things we know how to do the best damage control.”

Additional tips from the Commander of Idaho's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force:

  • Restrict access to images (e.g., privacy settings set to “friends”, not “public”)
  • Decline questionable friend/follower requests (e.g., unknowns, duplicates, etc.)
  • Be cognizant of the identifiers depicted in the images (e.g., school jersey, dance studio logos, home addresses, license plates, etc.)
  • Know the metadata settings on our devices (e.g., many still embed GPS coordinates into the photo unless this feature is disabled)
  • Be engaged
  • It’s your phone, monitoring your kids accounts, to include all photos, comments and contacts
  • Know all your child’s passwords

Red Flags:

  • Withdrawn or unusual behavior
  • You find inappropriate material on their devices
  • Texts/emails/calls from unknown people