Experts in Cyber Crime Units urge parents to beware of online predators

The Investigators: Experts in Cyber Crime Units urge parents to beware of online predators

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A quiet evening recently turned horrifying for one local mother after she realized her 16 year old girl was gone.

"It took the most grueling 12 hours of my life for them to find her," said the woman who asked to remain unidentified.

The mother says she still remembers the details like it was yesterday. She adds she called her daughter's phone non-stop getting only voicemail and then used her family mapping program to track the teen's phone and found it on the side of a busy road just miles from her home.

"I started checking my cell phone bill and realized she had been talking to two phone numbers from Lafayette about the time she came up missing and she had been talking to them for about two weeks," added the woman.

This mother's story is one that is all too familiar to the men and women in the Louisiana Attorney General's Cyber Crime Unit.

"We are always in an epic struggle to keep up with what the current trends are and what the current technology is," said David Ferris of the Cyber Crime Unit.

Ferris heads the special unit that continuously follows dozens of social media sites, looking at trends and determining what applications are being used the most.

"Kids aren't on the playgrounds anymore. Kids now are on line so wherever the kids go that's where these individuals are going to target them," said Ferris.

Ferris says kids go to places that allow social interaction, messaging and picture sharing. Sites like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram are among the most popular with minors because they do all three.

"One of the biggest questions we ask kids is, where are you on social media? What apps are you using? What chat rooms are you going to? different things like that because helps us not only keep track of not only what children are doing but where the potential for victims and suspects are," added Ferris.

In this victim's case Snapchat and another application named Kik were the mode of communication. After just two weeks of interaction, two adult males came and picked up the woman's daughter at her home around two a.m. and then drove her about 60 miles away.

Local police departments and the Attorney General's office tracked the teen down and arrested the males for a multitude of child endangerment charges.

"It was just terrifying emotions of what she had gone through in those 12 hours. yes she chose to leave she didn't leave unwillingly but I think once she got herself in that situation she didn't know how to get out of it and she had gone through some pretty adult things she didn't expect to go," said the woman.

Ferris points out that while this case had a happy ending many do not and says the best advice for parents is to simply be involved in their children's lives.

"Now a days we have crazy, busy lives. Everyone is running crazy and what I tell my parents if you don't, if you're not involved in your kids life, talking about talking to them on a regular basis, being truly involved, you really don't get to decide who is in your kids life at that point," said Ferris.

That was a hard lesson to learn for this mother and one she won't soon forget. The experience brought her closer to her daughter but also left her unwilling to take any more chances.

"Her Facebook, her cell phone is free reign to me," said the woman. "I have every password and she knows. it keeps her straight. it keeps her on the straight and narrow because she knows at any time I'll pick it up and go through it and I do regularly."

Ferris adds it's also important to set up guidelines with your kids about what is acceptable communication with others online and to have that conversation as soon as they begin using their computers and smart phones.

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