Predators take advantage of smartphone technology

(NBC) - Predators do not need to come up with new ways to contact young targets. Now there's an app for that.

Using free social networking apps on smartphone technology, it is becoming even easier for predators to connect with young people unaware of the dangers of location-sharing programs.

Stephanie Desanto thought she was a tech savvy and safety-conscious mom. She checked her 13-year-old daughter's iPhone regularly to monitor her interactions.

But then she caught her daughter sexting a person who claimed he was a 17-year-old boy.

Desanto's daughter met the boy on Skout, a flirting and chatting app. Using a free app called textfree, she was able to get around her mom's texting ban.

The app operates using wireless internet.

"She can do it at McDonald's, at Starbucks, they could do it anywhere. School has free WiFi," Desanto said. "It's a free app so it's not like it's going to show up on my credit card."

Desanto says her daughter would delete the app each time her mom would ask to check the phone so Desanto didn't catch on right away.

Apps like Skout and its affiliate app Boyahoy, Meet me, formally called My yearbook, Grindr and others are all built specifically on the promise of connecting you with "new friends."

All the apps ask for age verification, a simple screen tap confirms the designated age which can vary from 17 to 13-years-old.

What is worrisome to parents like Desanto are the apps that use location sharing. These apps use your current location to connect with other users nearby.

Law enforcement officials like Sgt. Richard Alexandre have investigated cases where predators have used random chat apps to geolocate their targets.

"These programs do have the ability to pinpoint where you are and then forward that information as part of your profile to whoever your speaking to," Alexandre said. "It's just one more method for the predator to be able to be able to make contact with the potential victim."