Online Predators: Tips For Parents In Wake Of Spokane Near-Kidna - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Online Predators: Tips For Parents In Wake Of Spokane Near-Kidnapping

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SPOKANE, Wash. -

All it takes is a few seconds: going online, downloading an app, or sharing pictures to find a potential predator.

It's all in a days work for Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy Damon Simmons.  He works in the Sex Crimes Unit, which is part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

But online?  He's Jessica, a 13-year-old girl. 

"This is the same thing the bad guys do, it's not hard to pretend that you're someone else on the Internet," Simmons told KHQ.

But Simmons does it to catch the bad guys, and has helped put away a couple dozen in the last few years.

"The problem in the Spokane area is the same problem that everyone is experiencing across the country, and across the world," he added.

One of the sites he showed us is www.omegle.com, designed solely for strangers to talk to strangers about topics that interest them, without registering or even creating a username.

"I learned about this site from a Mt. Spokane teenage girl.  She came up to me and said, ‘Hey, have you ever heard of Omegle.com?'" Deputy Simmons said.  "She said, ‘You might want to go there because that's where all the predators are.'"

While our cameras were rolling, it only took a matter of seconds for Deputy Simmons to be connected with the very people he tracks.

One message read: "Don't care about age if you have a nice a**."  Other, more sexually explicit posts we won't share.

Deputy Simmons said one of the first things predators will ask is for your age, sex and location.  But then, they'll ask you to Skype or Kik – online video chatting websites – to ensure they're really talking with teens, not detectives.

"I thought I knew the Internet, I thought I knew computers, and I was totally blown away by what happens and how many predators there are out there," Deputy Simmons added.

He says the best thing parents can do is talk with their kids about the dangers of the Internet and set clear expectations.  He recommends parents set up their kids' online accounts, have their passwords, and regularly monitor their usage.

Also, he says, make sure you know the capabilities of a device before you buy it for your child.  For example, even if you don't allow your teen to have a cell phone, but they have access to an iPad, they can download a free app like ‘Magic Jack' or ‘Text Plus' to make phone calls.

If you think your child has been approached or victimized by a predator, call police, or submit an online report at http://www.missingkids.com/cybertipline/.

Deputy Simmons also recommends parents check out these two websites for resources: www.netsmartz.org and www.missingkids.com/Families.

If you would like additional resources or information, you can call the Spokane County Sheriff's Office at 509-477-2240 and ask for someone in the Sex Crimes Unit.  Or you can call Deputy Simmons directly at 509-477-3240.

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