I-Team investigates: The dangerous side of teen dating apps

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Teen Dating App Dangers | I-Team Investigation

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A new trend — dating apps targeted at teens — has one Miami Valley family sending a warning.

News Center 7’s I-Team found that the apps can sometimes open the door to predators who are looking to meet up with children.

It can go beyond sexual exploitation, with those predators also blackmailing kids and teens for cash.

News Center 7’s Sean Cudahy spoke to one Beavercreek family about how their daughter became a victim.

It started with a a mother’s instinct about her daughter.

“Just to play a joke, she took her phone and looked at it,” the girl’s father said.

The hunch quickly paid off.

“She was on Skype, which she’s not allowed to be on,” the mother said.

“And she started digging more into her phone,” the dad added. “She was talking to a bunch of different men. A bunch of sexual things [were] on there.”

“They were extremely bad,” her mother said. “Stuff as an adult woman I could not believe. It made me want to vomit.”

It wasn’t just online though. The family said one guy wanted to meet up. They had set a time.

And a date.

And a place — a Beavercreek gas station.

“Evil,” the mother said. “That’s the only things I can think of. A young girl who wanted the attention, friends, and she put her out there and they took advantage of it.”

The parents said their daughter was using an app called MyLOL, a self-described “teen dating site.”

It claims to be number one in the world.

The girl’s father said he’d never heard of teen dating apps before.

But local internet attorney Andrew Rossow has.

“It’s started to pop up,” he said. “We’ve had the Tinder, the Hinge, the Bumble.”

Those apps are more centered around adults.

“But now you’re having these tween or teen dating apps,” said Rossow.

These sites do warn users to be safe.

MyLOL, for example, has a safety page where it cautions users about strangers, saying “Never trust who you talk to online.”

The site also said it screens every photo uploaded to make sure none contain “any nudity, racist or offensive content.”

But Rossow said adults with bad intentions can find a way in.

“Pretending to be somebody of that age, talking to an individual, gaining their trust and a whole plethora of events happens,” he said. “You have pictures, sexually explicit images and pictures that are being transmitted.”

Those images on their own, of course, are illegal and a huge problem.

But regardless the app, it can open the door to another crime that’s potentially humiliating and expensive.

Earlier this year, Sean Cudahy spoke to a man who said he Skyped naked with a woman online only to have her say this: “I want you to being me $200 over.”

She threatened to share screenshots with his work or family if he did not pay.

Sean Cudahy also reported on a case out of Shelby County where nearly a dozen students were targeted in a blackmail scheme in 2018.

The blackmailer used Snapchat to get nude photos and threatened to post them if the teens did not hand over hundreds of dollars.

It’s that type of 21st century crime that federal agents are warning teens about.

Called “sextortion,” it’s criminals using “deception, manipulation, money and gifts or threats” to get sexual images.

Sometimes people will threaten to share or publish them to get more photos or money.

“The idea is give me what I want — usually money and bitcoin — and I will either not post these materials or I will give you access back to your account,” Russow said.

It’s shockingly common too.

The FBI reported 5,017 cases of sextortion between 2015 and 2018.
Federal agents are so worried about it that they've been giving schools flyers encouraging people to "stop sextortion" and for victims to tell a trusted adult.

Rossow said all these crimes preys on two feelings: shame and guilt.

Those are two of the emotions felt by the Beavercreek teen who fell victim to another danger online: being targeted by a much older person.

“They acted nice so I kind of fell for it,” she said.

Talking about it now, she wants to warn other teenagers.

“I just don’t want other people to make the same mistake I’ve made,” she said. “I shouldn’t have tried to find friends on the internet instead of public, because it’s much safer out there instead of where you don’t know their faces or anything.”

Four months later and her family is relieved she’s safe.

They’ve all learned something, but those lessons cannot change what happened.

“I feel like my child’s innocence has been taken away,” said her mother. “And that’s not something she’ll ever get back.”

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