Law enforcement warns Snapchat is a perfect tool for child predators

Reviews have called it 'made for sexting'

DENVER (KMGH) - An app called Snapchat boasts 50-million "snaps" a day, but each of the images come and go in a matter of seconds.

"Anytime you can only show an image for 2 seconds to 10 seconds, you have to wonder why," said Detective Mike Harris with the Jefferson County, Colo., District Attorney's office.

That is exactly what Snapchat is about, sending images that disappear.

"Why limit it and what's the reason of limiting it? Because obviously you're letting strangers who you don't know have access to those pictures and often times those strangers are what we call 'predators' and what law enforcement and the kids call 'creepers,'" Harris told KSHB sister station KMGH.

Harris's team has arrested more than 600 "creepers" in his career, ten arrests this year alone.

"We've known about Snapchat for some time now and we're getting complaints that adults are sending inappropriate pictures to kids and asking them to send their inappropriate pictures," Harris said.

Since its debut in 2011, Snapchat has been reviewed aggressively on the web, called the photo app that is "made for sexting," an app that lets the user "continue to sext" without getting "black mailed" since the photos are "deleted in a matter of seconds."

"We've seen adult genitalia, we've seen naked females that you're not even asking for send pictures and they're just popping up and then people are asking you to send some of the same type of pictures," said Harris.

The app icon is a ghost, as in now you see it, now you don't.

"I'm not naive enough to think that there are going to be some kids that are going to do it just because it's going to be up there for 2 seconds," said Harris.

It is easy to Snapchat.  Just take a picture of yourself, what is called a "selfie," then select how long you would like someone to see it - from 2 to 10 seconds.  You can add people and include as many as you want when sending our your image.

"Genius," said an 8th grader at Landmark Academy.

"It's like a creeper's dream pretty much," said another.

Snapchat is available not only for smart phones, but also on iPads or iPods and predators know it.

"Have you ever had anyone send you a picture that was shocking or inappropriate?" Marchetta asked the 8th graders. About half the group said they had.

The teens were extremely savvy about how to stay safe online and also understand clearly why certain products are marketed to their age group.

"Because you can only do it for 5 or 10 seconds," one 8th grader said, "it's enticing kids to come out of their shell maybe maybe sending things they'd never think of doing or posting on Facebook."

Still, the teens told Marchetta the lure of getting "likes" for the images they post and accruing friends online has a competitive aspect that can be addicting and cause even the smartest kids to break the rules.

"You see people on Instagram saying 'I'm bored. Text me or message me at this number,' I've done that sometimes.  I would put on my email or my number," said an 8th grade girl.

"Because you're bored?" asked Marchetta?

"Ya," she said.

"Even if its someone you don't know, you wanna have a ton of people, so you just let them follow you," another teen said.

"Does that motivate you to want to accept people?" Marchetta asked? "Ya, ya," several 8th graders responded.

"If I can't be connected, she can't be on it," said mom Anna Berry.

Berry is on social media more than most parents for her career in public relations, and she monitors everything her 13-year old daughter does online.

But she can not do that with Snapchat.

"Snapchat I'm just starting to learn about," said Berry.

"I use it more than I should probably," said her 7th grade daughter Ashley.

Ashley and her friends send silly pictures of themselves back and forth and she said she never adds anyone to her account she does not know personally.

Berry trusts her daughter, but said monitoring her apps and interactions are just as important.

"Do you think parents have an idea what kids are doing and how young?" Marchetta asked Berry.

"I think there are a lot that don't," Berry said.

"Sometimes I'll be so tired cause I stayed up 'til 1:00, even 2:00," and 8th grader told Marchetta.

"Do your parents know that?"  Marchetta asked.

The response from the group was laughter, then an admission their parents do not approve of using technology after bed time.

"I want people to notice me. I want attention. I think that's mostly what every teenager wants," said an 8th grade boy.

It is the kind of attention Snapchat attracts that has law enforcement concerned.

"Tomorrow it's going to be a new app because we are learning unfortunately about these sites not because they're good but because they're being misused to go after kids and we're finding out when it's something bad happening to a child," said Harris, "The problem with all these apps from a law enforcement perspective is that there are so many and there are so many of them popping up in different formats and fashions that we have to learn it and we're learning and we're behind the curve learning it where these kids are making mistakes but also where predators are using these apps and sites to go after our kids."

Harris had a final warning for anyone using Snapchat.  Even though the image you send is not saved, the person receiving it can still take a "screen shot" of the image, a still picture as it is displayed on their screen.  The app lets the sender know, but by then it is too late, the image has been preserved by whoever received it.

Harris advises parents to have a curfew on all technology in their household.  He recommends having a charging station in a parent's bedroom so that a child's interaction is limited to a time of day they can be supervised.

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