Predators on the summertime prowl: Tampa mom gives advice on social media safety

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Predators are on the prowl right now in the Tampa Bay area.

It happened in Pasco, Sarasota and Pinellas counties on Tuesday. Three separate counties, three separate cases, three separate people – all accused of preying on children through social media messaging.

Three people were arrested in just 24 hours. Social media apps were used to meet up with kids as young as 12-years-old. Predators know that school is out, and children are away from their teachers and schools. Kids are being approached now more than ever through messaging on everything from Xbox to Facebook to innocent children’s games online. It provides the cloak of anonymity to criminals wanting to sexually abuse children.

For Steffany Rodriguez Neely, there is one rule she has when it comes to social media in her home.

It’s simple, she says. Laptops, iPads, cell phones? There’s one place only that they are allowed to be used – the kitchen.

Parents, she maintains, have access at all times when electronics are placed in a communal location in the home.

“It lets kids know that even if we’re not looking over your shoulder, we can do that very easily and it helps encourage appropriate behavior,” she said. She tells us that one aspect of social media that scares her the most is private messaging.

It’s happening everywhere.

“We’ve been very clear with our kids, somebody can say that they’re from your school, they’re not going to be from your school,” Rodriguez Neely said.

Another rule at this mom’s house?

No private messaging whatsoever. In fact, if she catches her kids private messaging, they cannot use that app anymore.

She admits that her kids have been targeted online and that predators know exactly when school is not in session. It becomes an even more dangerous time during the summer.

“I don’t want these people to use summer as an excuse, because they’re not in school around teachers all day,” she said.

Computer expert Mit Patel urges parents to always go through every app, every game and every message on their child’s phone. Predators, he says, are always lurking in hiding.

“It doesn’t take a degree in computer science to hide yourself, if you really wanted to,” he said.

Follow Melanie Michael on Facebook

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