Who’s Behind The Screen?

From 'Stranger Danger' to 'Catfishing' in the digital age

This is the third in a series of stories we’ve done in partnership with the FBI’s Field Office of Pittsburgh. Be sure to check out the first piece on reporting hate crimes and the second about cyber scams.

Technology has greatly enhanced our ability to connect and communicate with others but sadly, these improvements can come at a cost. It is all too easy to connect and share information with people we have never met in the flesh. We see a profile with a photo and some general information and simply take it at face value but such profiles can be incredibly easy to fake, causing children and adults to fall victim to unsavory characters.

Simple tips to prevent this: do your research and know with whom you are communicating. That goes double for all you parents out there. Try to limit who can contact you (or your child) with privacy settings/parental controls. That Instagram photo that some rando liked, you might be giving them context clues as to your location, making it all too easy to find out where you live, work, or hang out. Did you know Snapchat has a mapping feature that lets your Snap buddies track you wherever you are? If that creeps you out, go into your settings and disable location permissions for Snapchat. Like, right now. We can wait…

And while we’re on the subject of Snapchat, FBI Pittsburgh is currently seeking to identify potential victims of Kaung Myat Kyaw, a Penn Hills man who allegedly preyed on teenagers using Snapchat and other platforms. You can read more about these crimes or report relevant information related to the case here.

Ok so now that you’ve removed Snapchat, make sure you and/or your kids are not using the messaging app KIK. There are absolutely zero parental controls which obviously makes it attractive to kids and teens, but a 2018 report from the BBC found that KIK had been involved in over 1,100 child abuse cases. To make matters worse, this messaging app is Canadian which means that any crimes perpetrated through KIK are incredibly difficult to prosecute thanks to international law.

As terrible as these crimes are, so many of them go unreported because victims are afraid or embarrassed to come forward. The FBI guarantees your privacy in these matters but the crime has to be reported first! You may be asking yourself, why would I bother the FBI with something like this? Surely they have drug dealers and super-villains that need their attention, I’ll just call my local police department. That might seem like the sensible thing to do but your local law enforcement does not have the resources to handle and/or prosecute many of these cyber crimes. Illegal online activity falls under federal jurisdiction but they need you to report it before anything else can be done

(NOTE: Always call 911 in an emergency. You can report the details to the FBI later).

The FBI Pittsburgh office received over 500 cyber tips last year, mainly related to child pornography but approximately 40 of them were child enticement. For more information on how to keep kids safe or to report similar crimes, visit the FBI’s website. You can also report directly on the Cyber Tip Line website or at 1-800-843-5678.

Further reading:

Sextortion Fact Sheet and tips for Helping Families Prevent Child Sexploitation from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Roy Gloeckl resides in the southern hills of Pittsburgh, performing communications specialties for a local university. He is a lifelong gaymer who has yet to “catch ‘em all.” He is an actor who wants to be a cartoon. And yeah, he totally has a favorite dinosaur. Follow him on Instagram and tell him yours.