Police stress social media safety after mom finds man in daughter's closet
Huntsville police were called when a mother discovered a man in her underage daughter's room. (Source: Huntsville Police Department)
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
An Alabama mother came face-to-face with a man hiding in her daughter's bedroom. It turns out that social media brought the two together.
Police say a Huntsville mother found a 19-year-old man hiding in the closet in her 13-year-old daughter's bedroom early Monday morning and learned that he had been staying in her room for several days. The young girl reportedly admitted that they had engaged in sex acts over the weekend.
The two met a year ago on Facebook and became a couple. When the 19-year old man, who police did not identify, said he needed a place to stay, the 13-year-old girl allowed him to stay in her bedroom.
Sadly, the story of an underage girl connecting with a man on social media didn't surprise Captain Diane Hamm, who oversees the Computer Forensics Unit at the Prattville Police Department.
She says concerned parents will often bring their children's phones and computers down to the police department with messages on them from strangers. Officers in the unit will work to track down the person who sent them.
"If the children were receiving messages from some unknown person, our unit could potentially go in and find out who that person is. Our unit will try everything they can to try to locate these people," Cpt. Hamm told WSFA. "People are cruising these sites. They're picking up young folk and they're pretending to be the same age. It's hard to track these people down because they're using fake pages and fake names."
Many Prattville police officers still remember the case of a young local girl blackmailed into sending nude photos of herself to a man she met online.
"The child had met this guy over the internet and had befriended him and started to chat back and forth and before long, he wanted a picture of her and she sent a picture via a web cam. And later he wanted a breast shot and she did that and then he started to blackmail her and said that if she didn't give him a full shot, then he would put the picture out on social media for the whole world to see," Hamm said.
Police recommend that parents check with their service providers to see what tools are available for them to stay in control of when and how their children use their cell phones.
For example, Verizon offers a program called Family Base which allows parents to see who is in their kids' contact list, who and when they're calling and texting and what apps they're using and for how long. The service costs $5 per line per month.
"Parents need to be more involved. There's no expectation of privacy for a child. The parents need to, from time to time, look through their children's phones or computers and see what's going on," Hamm added.
A study done by the Girl Scouts on image and social media found that the vast majority of girls (85%) have talked with their parents about safe social networking behavior, yet 50% admit they are not always as careful as they should be.
As of right now, the 19-year-old man found hiding in the young girl's closet has not been charged with a crime.
"That's just a warning to the parents that if you're more involved and watching what your kids are doing, then maybe you can catch some of these things before they go too far," Cpt. Hamm said.