Parents say dangerous app lead to sexual predators

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Just about every teen wants one or already has one. iPhones and iPod Touches are in the hands of more and more of our kids. But but a WAVE 3 Troubleshooter investigation has uncovered, some teens are using the apps on those devices to connect a world of would be pedophiles and sexual predators. Troubleshooter Eric Flack is working for you, to uncover what parents can do to keep their children safe.

14-year-old Sierra Leanhart's connection to her new iPod Touch 4G connected her to a world of apps her parents never knew existed.

"Messages from the older men, wanting, you know," Sierra's mom Jessica said, leaving the rest to the imagination.

It all started when Sierra's cousin, also 14, convinced her to download two different apps that let her chat with strangers. A trend Sierra says, is popular with a number of her 8th grade friends.

"People just randomly send you messages and you just start, talking to people," Sierra explained.

People from other cities, other states. No rules, no filters. Anything goes. Sierra said within minutes on the app Chat Hoo? men started asking her for naked pictures. So she switched to another app, called iMeetzu, and immediately struck up a conversation with someone in Texas.

"His name was Ricky," Sierra said. "He told me he was 13."

Sierra's parents say he sounded more like a man in his 20s when they discovered phone messages Ricky left for their teenage daughter.

"Surprised isn't the word," her father Eric said. "I was mad."

"It was really scary because what if we hadn't of seen it," added her mom Jessica.

Sierra's parents saw what was going on after they took away her iPod Touch as punishment.

She was in a lot more trouble after her father read all the messages she was getting from random men.

"It's on the news all the time," Eric said. "Kids get kidnapped and killed, and I didn't want it to happen to her."

So he decided to show his daughter just how dangerous a game she was playing. He logged onto one of the stranger connect apps and identified himself as a 14-year-old girl, just like Sierra. Three different chat partners, two older men and an older woman, asked him for sex.

He's got the screen shots to prove it.

Aaron Mannenbach, developer of the iMeetzu app, said in an email that he regretted what happened to Sierra.

"This is not the type of activity we condone or promote," Mannenbach wrote. "We've actually had our own concerns about this sort of thing potentially occurring and had been recently working on making the site only accessible to those who are 18 and older."

"We also are constantly monitoring the site as much as we can to delete inappropriate/abusive users," Mannenbach said. He added, "Our site, much like Facebook, Myspace, and any other social networking website, has malicious users, and this is one of the sad realities of the internet. "

Mannenbach also pointed out that the app is designed for users age 17+, a warning which appears before downloading the iMeetzu app from the iTunes app store.

So we tracked down a computer expert to investigate if there was any way for parents to block inappropriate material. Technician Chris Watson from MacAuthority on Breckinridge Lane in St. Matthews said much like parental controls on your tv, iPhones and iPod touches include security settings that control which app's are downloaded to a device.

"Usually curiosity is what brings you into trouble," Watson said. "You're trying something out and you might not like what you might find."

Watson gave us these step by step directions to block app's that are inappropriate.

  1. From your home screen, click on the settings icon then select general.
  2. Scroll down and tap on restrictions, then enable restrictions.
  3. At that point you will be asked to enter a 4 digit restrictions pass code.
  4. Keep that pass code secret so your teen can't mess with the restrictions you put on the device.
  5. Once you've set that pass code, scroll down to allowed content, and tap: app's.

"Apple has enforced that all apps have to have an age rating on them," Watson explained. That means you can disallow apps in four different ratings categories, 4+, 8+, 12+ and 17+.

You can even set the device not to download any apps, a block that can easily be lifted with a few clicks and that secret pass code. For printable instructions, on how to block apps, click here.

For Sierra's parents, it's a lesson on how to save teens, from themselves.

"It's not that you don't trust your kid," Eric said. "But if you don't know what's out there you don't know what to look for."

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Copyright 2012 WAVE News. All rights reserved.