JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. - Law enforcement officers warn parents who monitor their child's internet and cell phone activity that they may be missing something that could be putting their children in danger.
NewsChannel5's Scripps sister station 7NEWS in Denver talked with a mother whose daughter was victimized through a texting app.
"I'm scrolling through this and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, who is this?'" said the mother, who asked not to be identified.
She found inappropriate texts on her daughter's cell phone by accident.
"I was going out that evening. She started acting suspicious when the phone lit up in her pocket," she said.
Mom confiscated the phone and was shocked by what she saw.
"They were asking her detailed questions like, ‘What do you like to do? Where do you live? What school do you go to?" she said. "Then he says, ‘Oh, send me another picture. But this time, make it one of-- very explicit.' He's asking for sexual pictures."
"I was scared to death. I've heard stories about people who do this. That's why I was trying to be so vigilant about watching her activities," said the mom.
"Parents aren't aware of them. So kids are using those applications to communicate in a manner parents will never know about, because most parents don't go through every single app," warned Detective Mike Harris with the Jefferson County District Attorney's office.
Harris investigates internet crimes against children. As technology has advanced, his work has expanded to include cell phones.
"A lot of kids post too much personal information," Harris said.
Members who use some of these apps can chat with each other. That's how a criminal can get access to a child. Harris said it's not uncommon for predators to ask for naked pictures and then it escalates from there.
"Naked pictures are the fuel that gives the predator the stimuli until they can actually meet that live child," said Harris.
Harris has made more than 500 arrests in the last eight years.
"I'm always amazed, because we aren't arresting people who aren't smart. We are arresting professionals … Businessmen; I've arrested people in law enforcement. It's not just that low element of people that you'd think would commit crimes. These are people in society that no one would imagine," Harris said.
He said the cloak of anonymity that technology offers makes it easier for predators to act on their devious thoughts.
"The best advice is to be involved with your kids, interact with your kids, know what's on their phone, know what's on their computer," he said.
The teen in this story was using the TextFree app. However, Harris said there are several others out there, including TextNow, TextPlus, TextForFree, YouTextMessage, and Txt2Day.
7NEWS reached out to some of these companies to ask what safety controls they have in place.
TextPlus was the only company that responded to our inquiry for information. Ilan Goldman, general counsel and head of safety and security privacy for the company, said TextPlus has an entire team devoted to security of users.
For example, they've built features into the app that allow someone to block another user, Goldman said. Users are encouraged to report suspicious activity to the company for an internal investigation. Also, Goldman said the company is in the process of rolling out a new feature that would restrict users from "searching" for other people who use the app. This would prevent a stranger from contacting a random person, he said.
"We feel like we're doing our part. Parents and users need to do their part," said Goldman.
The mom in our story caught the inappropriate texts early, but she said her daughter was still shaken. She said the teen has learned an important lesson.
"Unless you physically know that person that you're talking to. And you have gotten that phone number from them directly, you should not be talking to them—period," said the mom.
It's a message she hopes other parents will share with their children.
She also wants parents to know about a different app that can help them track their child's texting and cell phone activity, called My Mobile Watchdog.
"Get that app. Put that on your child's phone. Make them aware that you're going to be watching those mobile messages," she said.
Click here for more information on how to protect your child from online predators.