In light of several recent investigations, local law enforcement is urging parents to closely monitor their children’s phone activity. A new cell phone messaging application is popular with both teens, and sexual predators.
According to the Belgrade Detective Sergeant Dustin Lensing, four separate investigations have been opened regarding KiK Messenger, a web-based app that allows users to message one another without any verification of identity. Though kids may download KiK for innocent purposes, like chatting with their friends without going over their monthly text limit, it’s too easy for cyber predators to use them, too.
In a safety alert posted on the Belgrade Police Department’s Facebook page last week, detectives said all four incidents involved middle school aged kids who were communicating with adult strangers on KiK. The children were “enticed or threatened into sending sexually explicit messages and photographs.”
Lensing said the parents of the children involved, all girls, approached Belgrade police to investigate the “creepy” interactions on their daughters’ phones.
These investigations come just after a Bozeman man was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl he met via KiK. On Feb. 29, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported Aaron Matthew Manning, 26, was charged with felony sexual intercourse without consent after he brought the girl to his house, following a 30-minute chat on the messaging app.
Reports say the man asked the girl for a nude photo to prove she wasn’t a cop. They arranged to meet up in a parking lot in Bozeman, and he drove her back to his home to have sex.
“In these cases, it hasn’t gotten as far as being asked to meet places,” Lensing said of the investigations in Belgrade. “It’s just chatting, but it certainly has the potential to go further.”
The problem with apps like KiK is how easy it is to pose as someone else, Lensing said. On Tuesday, he demonstrated the troubling feature by quickly downloading the app and creating a profile for a 15-year-old boy. Any photo can be added to a profile, and at times, there’s no trail to lead to the person who truly sits behind the screen.
“There are just so many ways to meet strange people on here, and there’s no way to tell if they’re really who they say they are,” Lensing said.
Within KiK, users can access a variety of other sites and apps as well. Some look remarkably similar to modern dating applications like Tinder — profile pictures and names pop up on the screen, users swipe a certain way to indicate interest, and messaging capabilities are enabled.
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BELGRADE: Police: New cellphone apps present challenges to kids’ safety