INTERNET SAFETY: Experts explain dangers online ahead of virtual school year

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 5:01 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - With many local schools turning to virtual learning, students could be spending a lot more time on the internet.

A cyber crime investigator said children have unprecedented access to the internet, and soon, they might be spending more time online than ever before. He said parents play a major part in protecting kids from online predators.

“The age of our victims are so young and it’s just because they have access to the internet now that they’ve never had before,” said Matt Smith.

Matt Smith is an investigator with the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force. He said he has looked into cases involving children as young as five.

“You know, unfortunately, the internet is doing the job of a babysitter for a lot of kids right now,” Smith said.

Smith said, since most Missouri schools have been online since the spring, he’s seen an uptick in technology investigations. He worries that will continue through the fall, as students will have more access to computers, new websites and social media platforms. That’s why he believes internet safety education is imperative.

“They don’t understand that the people they’re talking to online are not their friends,” Smith said.

Officer Brent Forgey handles crime prevention for the Nixa Police Department.

“It’s easy for kids to fall into traps,” Forgey said.

He talks to Nixa students about dangers online and how to avoid them.

“We teach that to kids when they’re little, don’t talk to strangers. It’s the same with the internet,” Forgey said.

Both Nixa Public Schools and Springfield Public Schools provide devices that have shut-off times every night, and limit what websites students have access to.

Forgey said middle school students are usually more susceptible to abuse online, whether that be through grooming or threatening messages. He said parents should monitor their kids’ school computers at home.

Smith said the same goes with smart phones.

“If a parent provides the cell phone, they provide the internet use, that child doesn’t have a whole lot of privacy,” Smith said.

As the internet is ever changing, so are the apps kids might use to hide certain information on their devices. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office updated its list of apps parents need to know about.


“Plenty of Fish is a popular free dating app and website that encourages chatting with strangers. It allows users to browse profiles based on location.”


“Mocospace is a free social networking and dating app geared toward African American and Latino communities. Users can connect with strangers worldwide via text message or voice call.”


"MEETME is a dating social media app that allows users to connect with people based on geographic proximity. As the app's name suggests, users are encouraged to meet each other in person."


“WHATSAPP is a popular messaging app that allows users to send texts, photos, voicemails, make calls and video chats world wide. WHATSAPP uses an internet connection on smartphones and computers.”


"Bumble is 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 is 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 is known for cyberbullying. The app encourages anonymous users to ask them questions.”


"HILY is a dating app where users can browse photos, engage in chats, and send private videos and more. Based on GPS location of a mobile device, strangers can arrange to meet up locally."


"BEST SECRET FOLDER is specifically meant to hide photos and videos, according to the app store description. It features password protection, decoy videos and alarm settings."


"'GRINDR is a dating app geared towards gay, bi, and transgender people. The app gives users options to chat, share photos, and meet up based on a smartphone GPS location."


"TIKTOK is a new mobile device app popular with kids used for creating and sharing short videos. With very limited privacy controls, users are vulnerable to cyberbullying and explicit content."


“SNAPCHAT is one of the most popular apps in recent years. While the app promises users can take a photo/ video and it will disappear, new features including stories allow users to view content for up to 24 hours. Snapchat users also see your location.”


"HOLLA is a self-proclaimed "addicting" video chat app that allows users to meet people all over the world in just seconds. Reviewers say they have been confronted with racial slurs, explicit content and more."


"Calculator% is one of only several secret apps used to hide photos, videos, files, and browser history."


"Zoosk is a location-based dating app and website similar to many others. The app is available in 80 countries and utilizes a "carousel" feature which matches users with random strangers."


“MONKEY is a video chat app that connects users to random strangers worldwide, offering group chat and private message options. It claims to be rated for ages 12 and up but has ‘mild sexual content and nudity.’”


"SKOUT is a location-based dating app and website. While users under 17-years-old are unable to share private photos, kids can easily create an account using a different age."


"BADOO is a dating app and social networking app where users can chat, share photos and videos and connect based on location. While the app is intended for adults only, teens are known to create profiles."


"KIK allows anyone to contact and direct message your child. Kids can bypass traditional text messaging features. KIK gives users unlimited access to anyone, anywhere, anytime."


‘WHISPER is 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.”

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