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Investigators Find 11-Year-Olds Using 'Text Free,' 'Text Plus'

11:11 AM, Feb 27, 2012   |    comments
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- Parents of children with an iPad, iPhone, smart phone or iPod might want to search for "Text Free" or "Text Plus."

Jefferson County District Attorney's Office cyber investigator Mike Harris told 7NEWS of a growing trend among young people using the apps to hide sexting -- which means sending sexually suggestive messages or photos -- from their parents.

"The parents were vigilant. They were trying to check their kids' phones, checking the text messages. But what they didn't realize was that all these kids had gotten together either downloading 'Text Plus' or 'Text Free,'" Harris said, describing a group of 11- and 12-year-olds he said he recently busted in a Jefferson County middle-school sexting ring.

"They think they're tricking mom and dad, and in some cases they are, but more importantly is they're doing communications and sending pictures that just aren't age-appropriate. And, unfortunately, they don't realize the consequences legally, but even more so socially," Harris said.

He added that "more than two years ago," a 16-year-old girl was pressured by a boyfriend into sending a naked photo of herself to her him.

By the next day, the photo had been printed and taped on "a dozen" locations throughout her high school, causing her to eventually leave the school, Harris said.

And the danger is intensified now.

"The social implications when these pictures get out there, and they go viral. It's very scary," Harris said.

The "Text Free" and "Text Plus" apps are harder for parents to find, Harris said, because their messages can be stored in a folder with those headings, in the applications section of a computer or smart phone, not in the text-messaging list parents may already be checking.

"You almost have to go through each app your kid is adding, and in some of these cases, these kids had up to 75-plus apps on their phones," Harris said.

More than 60 percent of children in Jefferson County report that they have their cellphones in their rooms throughout the night, Harris said.

He recommends taking the smart phone away from children once they're home for the night and changing the settings on smart phones to only allow apps with a "low-maturity level."

But the best advice is to be as knowledgeable as possible about smart phones and to share the dangers about where inappropriate photos can end up.

"They'll always be out there, and that child will always be the age that they sent that picture," Harris said.

He also wants parents to remind young people that photos can be sent with GPS coordinates that can tell someone exactly where that photo was taken.

He recommends turning off GPS and other location settings on the smart phone before sending photos.


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