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Dangerous apps and phone features parents should know about

There are several smartphone apps authorities say parents should know about. Some, even being used by suspected predators recently arrested.

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and in News Channel 3’s Madison Weil’s special report “Dangerous Apps” she speaks with students and local PSUSD security experts on what to look out for when it comes to technology and your kids.

Apps are changing not only how kids communicate with one another, but also how they’re potentially targeted.

“The risk is someone preying on someone unsuspecting,” said Eduardo Rivera, Instructional Technology Specialist, PSUSD. He says the school district works actively with students and parents to promote safety online.

Apps like “Whatsapp,” “Meetme” or “Kik” are all designed to create a digital space for people to chat and meet up.

“[Kik] is like an app where you meet people and chat with them…but mostly like random people would go to you and text you,” said Haneen Abuhammad, an Indio High School student.

“It could certainly be dangerous because anyone can reach out to you,” added Nevaeh Walls, 7th grader, Desert Ridge Academy.

In many cases with apps like these, anyone can contact or direct message a child user.

“It has happened to me before like older men would text…I would just ignore them or sometimes I would delete the app and never use it again,” added Abuhammad.

“If older guys ask you where you live and want to know personal stuff about you…I just think you shouldn’t text back,” said Jennifer Andrade, an Indio High School student.

“LiveMe” allows users to video chat with strangers and reveals their location.

“It’s a live streaming app where people go live and random people join,” said Abuhammad.

A simple solution to make sure your child’s location isn’t being given out by any app: just make sure “location services” is turned off in the phone’s settings. Both Apple and Android devices have this option.

Popular dating apps to be aware of: Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, Badoo and Skout, to name a few. Some have age restrictions that can be easily surpassed if a user isn’t honest about their birthdate.

“I think it’s getting a little bit out of hand with the cell phones and all these apps,” said Sal Rodriguez, a local valley parent of three kids. He says his son is in a virtual relationship across seas with a girl he’s never met in person. “I have my doubts about this girl that she’s from Australia,” he said.

Experts say it’s easy for general users, or worse, predators to falsely represent themselves in a dating app, using fake photographs or information.

“There have been several different stories of users creating these profiles through these messaging apps pretending to be underage…and luring kids to meet up and trying to hang out,” said Eric Arline, Network Engineer, PSUSD.

There’s also several apps used to hide secret content on a phone. The most popular being one called “secret calculator.”

“That’s an app that’s specifically designed to hide things from an adult,” said Rivera.

It looks like a simple calculator, but that’s just a disguise. You’ll need a numerical passcode to access the secret content. This app, and other versions similar to it, are available for both Apple and Android users.

For iPhones, there’s a simple way to find out if your child is using one. In the app store, type in the word “secret.” If a person has not downloaded the app, it will have the word “get” next to it. However if a person has downloaded it and has the app on the actual device itself, it changes from the word “get” to “open.” Or alternatively, it will have a cloud icon instead to signify it was previously downloaded, but now deleted.

Experts say the conversation on cybersecurity needs to start at home: “If they trust you…and they have that open conversation with you, they can come to you with problems that they may or may not have,” said Rivera.

For a more detailed list of 20+ apps and how they could pose a threat to children from PSUSD, click here.

Watch News Channel 3’s special report “Dangerous Apps” to hear more about which apps and smartphone features could pose a threat to your child.

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