Recent Leeds missing persons case highlights need for social med

Recent Leeds missing persons case highlights need for social media safety

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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

A recent missing persons case is shedding light on the safety of some apps, especially those marketed to teens.

The parents of a Leeds teen who was missing for about a week tell us that at one point, she was using an app called Kik. Stefanie and Palvin Ritch say they've had to take their daughter's phone away because Destiny was frequently chatting on Kik.

Destiny was reported missing Saturday, Oct.12 and was found unharmed Wednesday, Oct. 16 at an male's apartment in Pelham.

The app is marked for kids 17 years of age and older but law enforcement officials say the company doesn't monitor user age.

"We see a lot of things come through...a lot of things. KIK, Snapchat, Instagram's big, Vine...and people are taking advantage of children is what they're doing," Lt. Mike Yarbrough with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said.

Most of these apps allow chatting and posting pictures and videos. And for those who want to sext, some sites delete information once a phone is turned off. Other apps tout that they'll erase messages and pictures seconds after they're sent.

"But once something is there, for instance a pornographic picture, you can take a screen shot of it and save it. Even if you don't do that, it says its deleted, but technically its still there," Yarbrough said.

So how can parents protect their children? Some service providers offer parental control packages that can restrict when someone texts or calls.

"What [parents] need to do is sit down with [kids], take their phone from them and go through it, ask questions. If mom and dad are paying for the phone, it's their phone. Its not the kid's. Go through. Ask questions. Find out who these people are," Yarbrough said.

Another suggestion is to set up the iTunes or similar account on a child's phone to a password that only parents know. That way, if kids want to download an app, they must ask Mom or Dad first.

If you'd like someone to come and speak to your church or civic group about social media and online safety, call the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Special Investigations Unit at 205-731-2775.

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