If your child has a cellphone, odds are they spent a good part of their summer making videos on an app called TikTok or messaging their friends on Snapchat.
But Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight says social media has made it easier than ever for online predators to contact kids.
Deputies recently arrested 25 men accused of using the Internet to solicit sex with children during a sting conducted by the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.
The suspects, ranging in age from 19 to 65, thought they were communicating with minors but they were actually talking to undercover detectives.
"We're doing everything we can do from a standpoint of deterrence by arresting people,” Knight said. “But the sad part for me is that we could run these operations constantly and keep arresting them. These men managed to blend into society and attempted to prey on children by developing trust.”
With children growing up in a digital age, it can be a challenge for parents to supervise their kid’s online activity, but Knight says parents are the biggest form of prevention.
“They are the adults,” he said. “They buy the phone and they pay for the service so they need to know what apps are on the child’s phone and see what those apps are doing. If they don't understand it, like me, they need to find somebody who does understand it. They can go to any of the stores they purchased it from and they can have the customer service agents show them how to inspect that phone so they can protect their child. If these predators can't contact them, we don't have to worry about catching them in a sting."
The sheriff's office's advice for parents about apps includes installing filtering programs, and reviewing and adjusting privacy settings on each app their child uses. Additionally, many wireless providers offer monitoring services that be integrated into a phone plan.