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Popular App Could Put Your Child at Risk

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A mom tells FOX 29 an app allowed a random texter send messages to her daughter's iPod. A mom tells FOX 29 an app allowed a random texter send messages to her daughter's iPod.
Rob D'Ovidio, a professor of criminal justice who specializes in high tech at Drexel University, searched the web and found similar apps easily. Rob D'Ovidio, a professor of criminal justice who specializes in high tech at Drexel University, searched the web and found similar apps easily.
Philadelphia, PA -

A local 12-year-old girl received graphic and disgusting text messages from someone she may not even know-- and she doesn't even have a cell phone. 

A popular app on her iPod allowed the messages to get through, but there are things parents can do to prevent it from happening to their kids. 

First and foremost, experts say, you have to keep up with the technology, and know what your kids are using.

The mom who contacted FOX 29 Thursday thought she had it under control.  She took precautions, but she didn't realize how risky some apps could be until she read the text messages someone sent her daughter. 

One said, "I want to f*** you right now."  Another read, "Did you get in the shower?  I'm watching you." 

The messages sent a chill through her mother, whose identity we're protecting.  The mother said after she read the texts, she was "terrified that my daughter's not safe."

Whoever sent them used an app called "Pinger" to text the messages from someone else's cell phone number.  Pinger is just one of many such app's. 

Rob D'Ovidio, a professor of criminal justice who specializes in high tech at Drexel University, searched the web and found them easily. 

"I got a handful of them, some called 'Fake Me Out,' others called 'Funny Looker.'"  Many of the app's are free.  "With these anonymous services you have the ability to cover your true identity," D'Ovidio explained.

 The mother of the sixth grader who received the disturbing texts thought she had been protecting her daughter:  she wouldn't let her have a cell phone.  But she did buy her an iPod.  She didn't realize the app's could be just as risky. 

"You can get an iPod Touch and really mimic the functionality of a smart phone with that, from everything from making phone calls to sending text messages to sending multi-media messages," D'Ovidio said.

So what's a parent supposed to do?  Professor D'Ovidio has strict rules for his young kids. 

"They can't download an app without our permission.  I actually have to go in and do it."  And D'Ovidio keeps close track of the friends his daughter is allowed to text.  "When she comes to us and says, I want to send a message to one of my other friends, we will only add that individual's name if we know who that person is."

Trying to control content on your child's device after the fact may be too late.  The texter who wrote the girl made that clear when her mother tried to block future texts.  "She said, you think you're slick?  Well, you keep blocking, I'm gonna keep changing my number."  Those app's allow the sender to keep using different phone numbers and identities, so blocking just one number won't work.

If you do download an app for your child, you want to check the privacy guidelines to ensure that the app maker is storing the information it's collecting.  That will enable you can trace the source of a problem, if one arises.

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