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Cyber Crimes Unit cracks down on dangerous 'free texting' apps

RAW FOOTAGE: Cyber Crimes Unit gives tips to parents with teens:

“A lot of the way that police keep up with this is by trial and error and by experience. Somebody calls, they need help,” said St. Joseph County Cyber Crimes expert Eric Tamashasky.

“People in the cutting edge of all of these technological evolutions are 13, they’re not 43. Cyber Crimes Unit has to step in,” said Tamashasky.

Tamashasky works to stay on top of what’s available in your app store. From the latest updates, to the secret-storage apps, he says the potential risks associated with them are scary.

“One of the things that we’ve seen from the cyber crimes unit more and more are the apps that allow kids to get numbers that are different than the ones that they have through Verizon or AT&T. You can change your area code, you can change your location,” said Tamashasky.

While some use these apps for legitimate purposes, others don’t.

“I downloaded it because I saw a lot of people were doing it and then all of a sudden I got this message that was super super .. just.. nasty and rude,” said one victim who was harassed via one of these apps. She wishes to remain anonymous.

“Deep down I thought to myself ‘Wow, do people really feel that way about me?’. It instantly makes you second guess yourself and second guess your character. That is exactly what happened to me,” she said.

“It’s damage they’d never do face-to-face, but man, you put them on WiFi, and they’re wicked,” said Tamashasky.

Access to multiple numbers, Tamashasky says, allows any one person with bad intentions to remain invisible.

“We had an investigation where the suspect had a phone number that came back to Boston, and then they had a phone number that came back to Texas, and then one Washington State. And we were mystified we thought it was an over the road trucker or sales person and it turned out to be a 13-year-old at home sitting on the couch. And we were completely hood-winked, said Tamashasky.

But they can’t hide forever. Last December, investigators arrested and charged 21-year-old David Eash of Elkhart with 13 counts of harassment and three counts of stalking after he allegedly called or texted 16 different female college students in three states.

The prosecutor’s office says the texts, which were sent using the free texting app called TextMe, were sexually explicit and vulgar.

ABC 57’s Andrea Alvarez reached out to the creators of the TextMe app to see if they were aware of some of these issues, but never heard back.

“Just be aware that that is something that is likely to happen. There’s always consequences for their actions but that feeling is still going to be there, that hurt will still be there,” she said.

So how can parents can stay ahead of something like this?

“I don’t think parents CAN stay ahead of this. I don’t think ANYBODY can stay ahead of this. A lot of the folks that get it just block it and move on. We’re not even remotely seeing how bad these apps are used,” said Tamashasky.

Tamashasky says when a victim does come forward about their concerns…

“When you peel back the layers on what’s happening to that one singular person, you end up with dozens and dozens and dozens of other people,” said Tamashasky.

That’s when he and his team can begin their work to shut down a cyber criminal’s plans.

“In themselves, none of this stuff is inherently bad, its just how its used. It doesn’t take much to build a pattern that elevates your conduct to criminal felonies. We’ve got to start imposing costs for this kind of behavior because at this point if folks get away with it, it just only going to get worse,” said Tamashasky.

Plans that can leave lifelong scars on the receiving end.

“It would mess with me forever because it’s just something that you would obsess about constantly. Be aware that that it something that is likely to happen and people can say what they way and it can be very hurtful.. …understand what it is you’re getting into before you just download it and think ‘oh all my friends are doing it,” said the victim.

Police say all hope isn’t lost just because someone chooses to remain anonymous, but blocking them won’t reduce these crimes!! Tamashasky says the more parents communicate among each other about these latest apps, the more they’ll know about what is in their child’s phone. Above you’ll find a video with raw footage from Tamashasky about how you can take steps to prevent this from happening on your child’s phone.

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