Lexington police continue investigating a case in which a suspect used a social media app to reach out to Lansdowne Elementary School students with inappropriate comments and requests for sexual photos and videos. Det. Tyson Carroll reminds parents to monitor their children’s cell phones.
Parents should have complete access to the cell phone of any child under 18, Carroll said. They should know their child’s password and should have access to the phone at will. He said that parents who wouldn’t allow a child to lock them out of their bedroom should take the same stance with the child’s cell phone.
At night, don’t let children charge their phones in their bedroom, Carroll said. Keep all phone chargers in the parents’ bedroom so the kids can get a good night’s sleep and parents can look at the phone.
Parents should know kids’ passwords. Keep phone chargers in parents’ bedrooms.
Also, Carroll said, parents should not let a generational technology gap stop them from “taking the steps to learn what’s out there in social media that can be dangerous.”
Carroll said he is being guarded with details about an investigation in which earlier this month someone contacted several Lansdowne students using the social media app called “ooVoo” and made inappropriate comments and requested pictures or videos of the children. Principal Jennifer Fish told parents about the situation in an April 6 email.
Lexington police spokeswoman Brenna Angel said that there is an open investigation. “We don’t believe the suspect is in Lexington and we are still working to identify the individual,” Angel said in an interview.
Carroll said the suspect reached out to at least three students.
Fish, the principal, said in the email:
“Please have a conversation with your son or daughter about the seriousness of Internet safety and the importance of not accepting friend requests from people they do not know. Although the Internet is a wonderful resource, it can also be dangerous. There are predators who use the anonymity of social media to take advantage of trusting young people. It is critical that children understand that the people they meet online may not be who they seem. Please check your student’s phone and see if they have the ‘ooVoo’ app.”
Fish asked parents to check the messages there and if they saw anything suspicious to report it to Lexington police at 859-258-3600.
“Do not delete anything you find, as this could be used as evidence for the police,” Fish said.
In March, a newspaper in the United Kingdom reported a similar incident involving students at a school there.
The ooVoo website said it is a video chat and message app. ooVoo users are required to be 13 years old. Sixty-five percent of its users are younger than 25, the website said.
Carroll said he’s investigated dozens of cases in the last two years in which children have been victimized through social media. The cases range from cyberbullying to exploitation, with the nexus being child pornography.
Carroll said that ooVoo had come up in past investigations, but less often than Facebook or Instagram. Carroll said he did not think the latest ooVoo case was related to past cases. He said ooVoo, Kick, Skype and Google Hangout all perform similar functions.
In some cases, predators will find kids on a video game or Facebook or Instagram and then video chat with them on ooVoo or another app in an effort to get photos or make contact, he said.
Carroll said parents should restrict phones so that children can’t install apps, including Snapchat, without going to the parent first. He said parents should investigate all apps before granting permission.
“Social media moves very fast,” Carroll said. Maturity does not move “quite as fast to keep up with it.”