I-TEAM: App acts like an open window into your child's bedroom

FBI, detectives warn parents about livestreaming apps your kids are using

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While investigating popular apps that allow predators direct access to your children, the I-TEAM uncovered a real-life dangerous game of hide and seek.

"Many of these mobile applications -- whatever you want to call them -- have the ability to let their child broadcast their location, but it gives essentially a stranger access into that child’s bedroom. It has video capability, still image capability, chat capability. This is nothing a parent should be excited about," said Special Agent MacDonald, who can't reveal his face as he works undercover with the FBI Crimes Against Children Task Force.

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Anyone can use the apps, and while specifically investigating LiveMe -- which has 20 million users -- the I-TEAM discovered live videos showing children and young teens interacting with adults. The kids were asked for personal information and were persuaded to take off their clothes. We even found predators preying on children in Jacksonville and Orange Park.

"Very often we talk to victim's parents, and they are just speechless that their child fell victim to something like this," MacDonald told the I-TEAM. 

We found video after video while randomly browsing the LiveMe app. After signing up with just a username and an email address, we witnessed frightening examples of child exploitation.

Concerned about some of what we discovered -- which could be classified as child pornography -- our I-TEAM contacted the FBI and turned over all the information we gathered to protect the children involved.

It involved two young girls, likely not even teenagers. They were livestreaming from a bedroom and had more than 100 viewers.

"Oh my God, 132 people!" one of the girls said while watching the number of viewers grow.

Hoping for internet fame, they're rewarded with prizes and more followers.

"My God! Thank you for sending gifts everyone!" one of the girls said during the livestream.

These two girls were having conversations with people hiding behind anonymous user names.

"Tell us your address so we can come to see you."

"No! Heck no! Don't do that!"

The girls' parents clearly have no idea what's going on the bedroom.

"We might do a livestream at 1 a.m.," one of the girls whispered to viewers who were still watching.

We contacted the FBI after we saw one of the girls go to the back of the bedroom, strip naked to only her underwear, and someone with the username "Dog 12" comment to the young girls to "take everything off."

"It is happening everywhere, worldwide," said Special Agent Bernard, who also works undercover with the FBI Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Neither Bernard nor MacDonald can single out one particular app, but both agents are concerned about any apps that allow livestreaming.

"The hunting ground of individuals that have a sexual interest in children has relocated to online," Bernard said.

Among the more concerning features we found on LiveMe is location services. It can be used to pinpoint exact locations -- within 10 feet.

"I don't think that any parent would be okay with strangers visiting their child in their child's bedroom at night," the male undercover agent said. "That's essentially what some of these smart phones and applications allow a predator to do."

Other examples we found on LiveMe include: 

Example 1

A young girl told followers on her livestream that she lived in South Georgia.

"I am from Orlando, Florida and right now, I'm in Valdosta," she said.

Example 2

A girl calls a follower after he gives her his cellphone number.

"Hello? So this is your real number," she said in the livestream.

Example 3

A girl, who was clearly underage, was livestreaming while dancing provocatively in her bedroom.

More than 800 people were watching her and commenting with things like, "love you," "kiss me," and other comments that are too sexually explicit to repeat.

Example 4

While an underage girl was livestreaming, commenters told her things like "open your dress" and "take off your jacket."

The I-TEAM showed the LiveMe app to Clay County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Padgett. He's a former sex crimes detective, and he's also a father of three.

"With my daughter, I would be highly concerned about this and overwhelmingly bothered if I knew that my daughter was on this app. With 364 complete strangers watching her sit in her bedroom," said Padgett.

"I'll be making contact with our cybercrime detectives after this to make sure that they are up to speed on this," Padgett told the I-TEAM, saying this LiveMe app is very concerning.

UNCUT: Deputy Padgett's I-TEAM interview

Detectives did confirm they've investigated two cases where local girls were solicited for sex on LiveMe.

"It's happening right here in Clay County. It's happening in Duval and St. Johns and Putnam and all over the United States," Padgett warned.

If you don't think your children have this app, you could be wrong.

"A lot of girls in my school have it, and they wanted me to download it, I guess, so I could watch them live," said Nathan, who is 14 years old.

While kids know about LiveMe, some parents the I-TEAM spoke with had no idea until we showed them.

"That's not good at all. I don't know what to say," said Melissa Zona, who has four children with her husband Paul.

"It's open for anybody to ask them to do anything," said Paul. "There's ways that we can protect, but if we don't know about it. I wasn't aware about it until today.

"My kids won't be on it," added Melissa.

On the LiveMe app, it says "Sexual or violent content is strictly prohibited. All violators will be banned." LiveMe administrators say employees are looking for inappropriate and illegal content. But, based on what the I-TEAM found, it does happen.

Other apps TeenSafe warns about

LiveMe is not the only app causing concern. The organization TeenSafe warns about dozens of apps in its TeenSafe Smartphone App Blacklist 2018. Some of the apps "blacklisted" include: 

  • Snapchat
  • Kik
  • Tinder
  • Down
  • Yodo

TeenSafe said not only are the apps making children vulnerable to predators, they are also a haven for cyberbullies.

Parents: You need to do this

FBI agents and detectives say parents MUST check phones and tablets their children have, and also limit how often they use them.  They also want parents to do these three things:

1. Keep phones and tablets out of bedrooms.
2. Watch for odd behavior. If your child seems aloof or addicted to the phone, that's a red flag.
3. Look at your child's search history. If the search history is deleted, that's cause for concern.

If parents suspect their child is a victim of exploitation, they should contact their local law enforcement or they can report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.