Warning about mobile apps used to target children

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When it comes to thinking about back-to-school safety, child safety advocates are urging parents not to forget talking to children about online safety. 

The Texas Center for the Missing says almost all of their investigations involve child predators using mobile applications to target children. 

"The most recent messenger app where a lot of kids are being lured off of is the Discord app, which is a gaming messenger app," explained Melissa Rangel, Case Manager with Texas Center for the Missing.

Earlier this year, two Florida teenagers were reportedly trafficked by suspects they met through Discord.

Constable Mark Herman for Harris County Precinct 4 is also warning parents about 14 others including Snapchat, Instagram, and Kik.

"We’ve had cases with the majority of these apps," Herman stated.

The apps are known as vault or ghost apps.

"This activity when school starts on these apps is going to pick up tremendously among the kids and their friends and among others that they let in to the circle," Herman warned.

Herman and Rangel says the most important things parents can do to protect their children is familiarizing themselves with the apps and talking to them about internet safety early on.

"Just communicate with them and tell them that you’re going to be there for them if anything makes you feel unsafe and uncomfortable," Rangel added.

She also adds not be afraid to check your child's phone. 

Other tips from the Texas Center for the Missing include:

  • Keeping digital devices in a common room -- not in a child's bedroom.
  • Establishing a family "charging station" where all devices are kept overnight.
  • Check your children's email addresses and screen names for appropriateness.

For more tips, click here.

The center also offers free internet safety workshops to kids, teens, and parents.