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Experts say cracking your kid's phone key to their safety

Apps that hide photos, texts pose danger to teens
Posted at 12:47 PM, May 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-16 00:32:29-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- It may seem strange to check your child's phone and be in their business, but experts say it's important to make sure they stay safe.

There are hundreds of apps designed to keep parents in the dark about what their children are up to.

Roneika Howell of Indianapolis has a great relationship with her 16-year-old daughter Ronasiah. Howell trusts her daughter, but still does regular phone checks.

“It’s random, just like a drug test on the job,” Howell said.

The mother looks at who her teen is talking to on apps like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.

“I feel like as a parent, it’s our business to be in our children’s business,” Howell said.

Indiana State Police Youth Educator Stephanie Nancarrow told Call 6 Investigates at a minimum, you should sporadically look at your child’s phone.

“Go into every single app and see what it is,” Nancarrow said. “For example, Down is a secret app to dating where they're hooking up with nearby people. It's similar to Tinder and you have younger kids getting on these apps."

Many apps look like tools or games, but they’re actually decoys meant to trick parents.

One app many teens are using looks like a run of the mill calculator, but you enter a password and you can unlock a vault storing pictures, texts and whatever else your child wants to hide.

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“The possibilities are endless as to what they could put in these files," said Nancarrow. “It’s extremely scary.”

Ronasiah knows about the fake calculator app, but said she does not use it.

“A girl showed me that at school,” said Ronasiah.

Ronasiah’s mother considers herself tech savvy, so Call 6 Investigates put her to the test to see if she could find the hidden vault. After multiple tries and some help from Ronasiah, Howell finally found the fake calculator.

“Wow, " said Howell.  “I can be fooled. They are capable of hiding things."

Because decoy apps come out every day with new names, Nancarrow recommends checking your billing and app download history.

“You can see what apps your child has downloaded previously,” Nancarrow said. “Some kids know you’re going to go through their phone, so they'll take it off their phone, delete it, you go through it and then they'll reload it. So if you're not looking at your purchase history, you could be missing some of the apps they're actually downloading."

Ronasiah has had some scary moments, including creepy comments on her Instagram photos.

“Someone I don’t know, like a man, saying I’m pretty,” said Ronasiah.

Not trusting other people is why her mother has no problem cracking her child’s phone if it helps keep her safe.

“Know your kids are probably 10 steps ahead of you," Nancarrow said.

Indiana State Police recommends to parents to research an app if you don’t know exactly what it is.

It’s also a good idea to have a list of your child's passwords and make rules about changing them.

You can also install a slew of apps to keep tabs on your child’s whereabouts and screen time, such as Mama Bear and Net Nanny.

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If you would like to request an internet safety session for your group or school, contact Indiana State Police at ICACYouthEd@ISP.IN.Gov