Seemingly innocent app draws inappropriate contact

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A mother is warning other parents to be careful what games your children play on smartphones or online.

The Jacksonville woman let her 15-year-old daughter play Words with Friends on the mother's phone. Days later, she received what she felt was an inappropriate message through the app.

"It said, 'Hello beautiful. I was looking at your profile picture and you have a really pretty smile,'" the Jacksonville mother, who wants to remain anonymous, said. "I realized at that point that he was talking about my 15-year-old daughter."

Words with Friends is a popular app many people have downloaded on their phones. You can play with people you know, or you can play with strangers.

While the phone belonged to the mother, the photo was the daughter's Facebook profile picture, which she had used to set up her account on the app. The message also came in at 2:15 a.m.

"It was horrifying because I’m so careful with my children and I felt like I had put them in harm's way," the mother said. 

She spoke with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and showed an officer the message. She said they told her the message did seem suspicious but that telling a girl she’s beautiful or has a lovely smile isn’t a crime. The JSO told News4Jax that if the communication becomes threatening or sexual in nature, it could be considered illegal and the person should contact police.

Jacksonville police and online security experts recommend that neither children nor adults link to their Facebook or other social media profiles when setting up an app. Use your email address instead.

Networking security consultant Christopher Hamer said nothing on the internet is truly safe and it’s up to parents to communicate that to their children.

"They need to understand that they can always communicate with you and that you will always be willing to listen to them for that one second where they say, 'Mom, Dad, somebody said something to me on the internet that made me feel uncomfortable," Hamer said.

Parents are also urged to monitor their child’s phone and computer activity, know what games they are playing, what websites they are visiting and who they’re talking with.

This Jacksonville mom said she has deleted the Words with Friends app and will talk with her two daughters, reminding them about what to do and not do online.