Can the KidGuard App Protect Against the Rising New Threat of Virtual Kidnapping?
Nothing invades our lives and assaults our sense of safety like the disappearance of a child. The questions mount – has she run away, has his phone died, are they with friends or alone? The panic slowly starts to rise – we’ve checked with their friends, they’re not there; they left school several hours ago; they were right there, behind us, and now they’re gone… Where are they? And when time keeps marching inexorably on, the dread takes hold - who has them, who are they with… are they going to hurt my child?
Kidnapping has been parents’ worst nightmare pretty much forever and, despite growing awareness and careful teaching of children not to go with strangers, it keeps happening. While the vast majority of kidnapping cases have always been a family member, and usually in custody dispute cases, there are still many instances of children being taken by an acquaintance or a stranger – most often with violent, devastating results.
But a new threat is on the rise, something that is more difficult to control, and that strikes absolute terror into the hearts of parents and guardians – the threat of virtual kidnapping.
What is virtual kidnapping?
Virtual kidnapping occurs when an online predator manages to gather enough information about a child or teen by following their social media, to enable them to easily fake having kidnapped the child. Using this information, they will contact the parent or guardian, and convince them that they have taken the child, following which they demand a ransom.
In most cases, the child is perfectly safe, either at school, after-school sports or activities, or visiting a friend - they are usually completely unaware that someone is purporting to have taken them, or that their parents are frantically searching for them. In the meantime, the supposed kidnapper is taunting parents with personal details about their child, to make the threat seen more believable. The reality of this kind of scam is that often, the “kidnapper” isn’t even in the same country as the victim, and has never encountered the child at all.
Frequently, these criminals will have received their payment and disappeared before the parents realize they’ve been the victims of a scam, rather than a kidnapping. The worst thing about this threat? Because no “real” kidnapping takes place, it often goes unreported, usually because the victims are too ashamed to admit they were taken in by what seems, in retrospect, to be an obvious fake. Other reasons for not reporting it include fear of reprisal, just in case the fake kidnapper decides to take it to the next level.
Can it be prevented?
This devious scam is seemingly unstoppable - after all, the false kidnapper operates by gathering information about the child, the parents and the family online, using social media. By its very nature, social media is publicly available information. Even if your children are savvy enough to use enhanced privacy settings, it is scarily easy for online predators of all kinds to gain access to your child via seemingly legitimate friend requests and following them on various media.
Besides their own social media profiles, these predators often follow the parents, friends and siblings of the potential “victim” as well, allowing them to build a clear and holistic picture of their future scam victims. Put like this, it can seem impossible to prevent such a scam from happening; however, there are several ways parents can safeguard themselves and their children against this threat.
Firstly, it is critical to establish whether or not the kidnapping is legitimate. Starting with the initial phone call, there are several steps you can take to establish whether or not the caller really has your child. This includes asking to speak to them, trying to get proof that they have been taken, and even trying to contact them separately to double-check on their current whereabouts. By following this checklist of steps to take, you should be able to get a clearer picture of whether your child has, in fact, been kidnapped or not.
Secondly - or rather, pre-emptively - you can install monitoring and tracking software, like KidGuard, on your child’s mobile device. This type of software allows you to quickly and accurately pin-point your child’s whereabouts using the built-in GPS location function of the phone, even while you are on the phone with the “kidnapper.” If your child is where you would expect them to be, you are already several steps closer to confirming that this is an attempted scam, rather than your child in danger.
In the unfortunate event that anything serious actually happens to your child, KidGuard has an emergency feature called Situation 360 where parents can activate a crisis report to be provided to authorities. This report compiles all the recent data gathered from your child’s mobile device—their call history, messages, search history—as well as a pattern of life report, which points out anything out of the ordinary in their recent activities. Situation 360 also provides a list of police departments and contact numbers closest to the parents’ location. An additional notification option is available for parents to notify their friends and family of the emergency via social media.
The reality is, even though virtual kidnapping rarely puts your child in any real danger, the potential for legitimate kidnapping always exists. With so many predators plying their trade online, the risk to children is greater than it has ever been. Now more than ever there are online resources like KidGuard’s “Parent’s Guide to Preventing Child Abduction, Kidnapping, and Missing Children” and Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” that have certainly pushed the boundaries of what can be done in terms of the safety of your child both online and offline. Educating the next generation on internet safety issues will certainly be a regular topic taught in classrooms and certainly takes parenting to a new level.