A string of 21 arrests from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has prompted a warning for parents around the country. Deputies arrested 21 men — in a six-day sting called “Operation Intercept Five” — accused of soliciting young boys and girls for sex, using specific social media apps. The suspects ranged from ages 22 to 58 and engaged through the apps with sexually explicit written and verbal communications.
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Authorities made contact with the men, pretending to be minors. Investigations said several suspects sent explicit photos and traveled with the intent to have sex with female or male children. Authorities are now urging parents to check your children’s phones to see if they are using any of these apps. The dangerous apps can expose your children to a range of things from bullying and unsolicited sexual messages, and may even allow the strangers to have your child’s location.
Many parents know about Snapchat or WhatsApp, but others on the list aren’t as well known. Apps like Hot Or Not, Holla and Whisper can all share your child’s location, post anonymous messages, and video chat with strangers. Law enforcement says the best way to stay on top of these apps is to simply ask your children what apps they like to use.
To help protect your child, authorities recommend approving every app on your child’s phone, check their privacy setting, talk with your children about social media and app usage, and find out what is popular in your region.
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These are the following apps deputies are warned against:
- BUMBLE: Similar to the popular dating app “Tinder,” however it requires women to make the first contact. Kids have been known to use Bumble to create fake accounts and falsify their age.
- LIVE.ME: A live-streaming video app that uses geolocation to share videos so users can find out a broadcaster’s exact location. Users can earn “coins” as a way to “pay” minors for photos.
- ASK.FM: Known for cyberbullying. The app encourages users to allow anonymous people to ask them questions.
- SNAPCHAT: is one of the most popular apps of 2018. While the app promises users can take a photo/video and it will disappear, recent features including “stories” allows users to view content for up to 24 hours. Snapchat also allows users to see your location.
- HOLLA: A self-proclaimed “addicting” video chat app that allows users to meet people from all over the world in just seconds. Reviewers say they have been confronted with racial slurs, explicit content and more.
- CALCULATOR%: Only one of several secret apps used to hide photos, videos, files and browser history.
- KIK allows anyone to contact and direct message to your child. Kids can bypass traditional text messaging features. KIK gives users unlimited access to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
- WHISPER: An anonymous social network that promotes sharing secrets with strangers. It also reveals a user’s location so people can meet up.
- HOT OR NOT: Encourages users to rate your profile, check out people in their area and chat with strangers. The goal of this app is to hook up.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 3, 2018.