FBI warns of dangerous smartphone apps targeting kids

Special agents, DCPS Parent Academy offer free app safety courses for parents

By Erik Avanier - Reporter, Jennifer Ready - Reporter, Roxy Tyler - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Special agents with the FBI partnered with the Parent Academy of Duval County Public Schools to help teach Jacksonville parents about smartphone apps that offenders use to target and manipulate children.

The free course, called "Be Smart with your Kids' Smartphone," features FBI agents revealing how technology has been used in real-life cases from Jacksonville, providing guidance on what to look for to help keep children from being victimized and how to identify dangerous apps that target children. 

At the first of four sessions, which was held Tuesday night at Westview K-8 School, the FBI warned parents about the Amino app.

On the surface, it looks like something children would use, until you read where it says, “Your interests times infinity. Amino has authentic communities for WHATEVER you’re into.”

According to the FBI, the app is just one example of the danger parents need to be aware of when they allow their child to have a smartphone. 

During the free seminar, parents learned there's a lot to be concerned about with new apps constantly popping up.

“There’s a constant change, almost weekly, of new apps and new things coming out that are targeting our kids," FBI Special Agent Carlton Peeples said. "As parents and facilitators, we need to make sure we’re on top of that.”

Jeanna Ploetner, who has an 8-year-old son, said she attended the seminar because there is a lot she didn’t know about apps that target children. 

“I grew up in a different time, and things were a lot different. I’m an older parent and things that are going on now are not the things I grew up with," Ploenter said. “It’s very disturbing that there are individuals out there that would do this.”

Authorities said there are adults using cellphone apps to solicit children to post nude pictures online or enticing children to meet them for sex.

"(It's) very easy (for a child to fall prey) because they feel like they're talking to a peer or someone similar to their age," Peeples said, adding that, in reality, they may be talking to an adult sexual predator who is pretending to be a child. 

According to the FBI, Florida has one of the highest numbers of registered sex offenders in the United States, and an overwhelming majority of them in Florida reside in Duval County.

Adding to the problem, the FBI says, is a social media interview featuring singer Marilyn Manson, who openly talks about creating a new app like Tinder. 

“I started to come up with a new Tinder for kids called Kinder. It’s for sexy kids," he said in the interview. 

Even if it was a joke, the FBI says it is not a joking matter. 

FBI agents also warned of apps that allow children to hide inappropriate apps behind innocent-looking icons.

3 more sessions scheduled

If you didn't make it to the first session Tuesday night, there will be three other sessions for parents, caregivers and educators to attend.

The additional sessions will be held from 5:30 -7 p.m. on the following dates at the following locations: 

Oct. 30 - New Berlin Elementary School, 3613 New Berlin Road

Nov. 13 - Mandarin Middle School, 5100 Hood Road

Dec.11 - Bartram Springs Elementary School, 14799 Bartram Springs Parkway

Although it is not required, registration is suggested, to ensure enough space is available for all who want to attend.

Click here to register for any of the seminars.

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