KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A popular online chat site has some metro law enforcement agencies in the metro on high alert right now. With more students doing virtual learning, they say Omegle is attracting more kids and online predators.
A detective with the Western Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force showed FOX4 how fast a teen could fall under the influence of an online predator.
Omegle isn’t new; it was created in 2009. But only recently has it seen a spike in popularity as kids and young adults are using it to talk with strangers and connect with TikTok followers.
In a video from the task force, you can hear a teen speaking with the detective. The detective’s identity is concealed because of his undercover work, but in the video you can hear him asking the girl’s age. She responded by telling him to guess.
After guessing her age, the detective proceeds with more questions, and the teen answers. Within seconds, she volunteers information about what state she lives in.
“I guarantee you with a little bit of more talking easily could have a lot more information from her,” the detective said after the conversation. The detective’s web cam is covered, but he can see other cameras from teens and even some children who look as young as 9-10 years old.
The Cyber Crimes Task Force spends numerous hours in chat rooms and chat sites looking for predators and warning kids. There focus is now on Omegle.
“In this task force, we do undercover chats where we talk to people who are looking to exploit children,” the undercover agent said.
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said his office has prosecuted several predators who have used Omegle to exploit children.
“So it was within the last two years that we’ve seen this app being used by minors and being misused by minors,” Howe said.
He said he’s worried the website will become even more dangerous because of the pandemic.
“Just the words that are behind the application — ‘Come meet strangers’ — like it’s no big deal,” Howe said, “and when you’re talking about minors and you’re talking about enticing them to meet strangers again to have that social interaction they’re starving for.”
It’s the same concern for the Cyber Crimes Task Force.
The online chat site allows kids to meet strangers. The site says you have to be 18 to sign up, or you must have parental permission, but task force members said there’s no checking or verification process. It’s just one click and kids are in.
“You can easily find somebody from anywhere in the world that, a lot times, they’re performing sexual acts or they are nude,” the detective said.
The task force said there’s even an Omegle Kids site.
“It says from ages 10 to 13. Then when you get in there, it says, ‘Well, you should be 13 years or older, and your parents should know.’ And they say, ‘Hey, we’re watching this,’ but how can they truly watch that many?” the detective said.
“I promise you that there are probably some kids in here that are looking for just friends to talk with and kids their age. But on the other hand, there are going to be predators that are looking at this.”
Kids really think this is all in fun, but the task force said if parents teach kids not to talk to strangers in public, the same lesson should apply online.
“Almost 90% of the cases I work, that’s exactly the same thing I hear from every parent of a victim of a case I’ve worked — that this couldn’t happen. ‘My kid, my kid wouldn’t do that.’ There’s no way, you know,” the detective said. “These predators are so good about finding weaknesses and how to get through to them.”
The task force said since the pandemic began, the number of cyber crime tips has gone up exponentially. There’s no way to tell for sure the impact the pandemic will have on children until it’s over.
They said parents should check everything, especially any app that offers a chat feature.
“Even it its something like Sesame Street, very child friendly. If there’s a chat feature on there, they need to be checking those because private messages can be sent through a lot of these kids apps,” the detective said.
Parents should be suspicious of two of the same kinds of apps. The detective said they’re apps that are actually photo vaults to store pictures.
“It looks just like a calculator. You would have no idea that was a photo vault app unless somebody specifically told you,” the detective explained.
Parents with teens who use SnapChat should check their child’s phones for hidden storage folders, the detective added.
“It’s actually a folder inside of SnapChat that you can put images or pictures in, and they can also lock you out of it by using a passcode. A lot of parents have no idea that this folder exists.”
The task force said predators can even upload spyware to your child’s device without the child’s or parent’s knowledge. Uploading spyware can give predators access to webcams to take pictures and video.
“So it’s not just looking, it’s familiarizing yourself with the apps the kids are using as well,” one cyber crimes task force member said.
Howe said parents shouldn’t think just because their child is on a school-issued device that it’s protected.
“Kids know how to get around them, and that’s the scary thing is they can work their way around those blocks, and then be able to go into those types of applications. So don’t assume just because it’s a school tablet, or something like that, that you don’t have to be concerned about those types of things,” Howe said.
“I know, parents have a lot on their plate right now, but do a little bit of investigation and find out what is on your kid’s phone, what’s on their computer, and make sure that you know the purpose of that because that’s how it becomes dangerous.”