Looking to socialize with other kids during a pandemic that has them pretty much isolated, two teens logged onto Omegle.com - a site where they can “talk to strangers.”
Their mothers, who asked us to conceal their identities to protect their 13-year-old sons, say a friend of the boys told them they could meet new kids in the chat but didn’t warn them they could be exposed to inappropriate content.
“What we found out apparently...some adults go on there, and they’re nude, showing their private parts and they’re masturbating,” one of the mothers told NBC 6. We will refer to her as Ana.
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“He was shocked because he honestly went there just to meet new kids his age,” she added.
Like similar sites, you don’t have to register or identify yourself to connect to Omegle. Instead, users have to accept the terms of service.
From there, it’s like a Russian roulette that randomly picks a stranger for you to chat with.
“They engage into what’s called a video chat, or video streaming where it’s one-on-one and some platforms have it where you can multiple users,” said Detective John Snuggs, who works at the Miami-Dade Police Internet Crimes Against Children’s unit.
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The mothers we interviewed say their kids were instantly connected to adults who were engaging in lewd acts.
“Most of the platforms put out a disclaimer in the beginning when you log in that says we’re not responsible for any content that is exchanged here,” Snuggs said.
On its homepage, Omegle acknowledges “predators have been known” to use the site.
NBC 6 Investigators tried contacting the site’s creator but didn’t hear back. On Facebook, he says he’s implemented measures to block lewd behavior and in 2015, he helped send a Kentucky man to prison for distributing child pornography on the site.
Detectives say sometimes pedophiles take advantage of the anonymity these sites offer to prey on kids asking them for inappropriate pictures.
Snuggs says these interactions tend to escalate to bigger crimes.
“Once the conversation begins to grow into eliciting inappropriate photographs. A lot of the times, they ask the child victim for a phone number, an address,” Snuggs said.
Experts recommend parents to block pages like this one on kids’ devices, to speak frankly with them about the dangers and to constantly check the sites they visit.
“I want parents to be aware of this website and I guess this new chatroom,” Ana said.
Detectives at the MDPD Internet Crime Against Children’s unit say finding sexual predators who hide on these sites isn’t easy since they use computer servers in other countries. That’s why it is important to prevent children from accessing this content in the first place.