(WFSB) – A warning for parents of children who are surfing the web for fun and friends.
While children may be looking for companionship, conversation, and human connection during the pandemic, child sex predators are looking for an easy mark.
Kids are congregating a certain website where they are all too often met by adults with sinister motives.
WARINNG: This story contains a conversation about online predators and their activities.
Omegle is a free website where people can text and video chat with others around the work, which is growing increasing popular among teens, tweens, and even younger.
But, it’s no place for kids. It does have warnings that, “predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.”
The website asks if you are 18-years-old, but all do you is click okay and you’re in. The site’s tag line is literally “talk to strangers.”
“We teach them since they are this big, don’t talk to strangers, but as you’ll see in a couple seconds, a couple of clicks of the mouse, they are in a stranger’s world they shouldn’t be in,” said Scott Driscoll, President of Internet Safety Concepts.
Scott Driscoll is an internet safety expert who spent years as a police officer doing undercover web-based crime investigations. He agreed to go on Omegle for Eyewitness News and show how dangerous it can be.
“You are going to see my camera come in down here and then we are going to get random strangers up here and we will see what happens,” Driscoll said.
Within the first few moments, there were pornographic images.
“It’s very, very common that you see people’s private parts,” Driscoll said.
What is also common is talking to children. Within seconds, Driscoll was chatting with two young boys.
The boys soon tell Driscoll they have seen pornography on Omegle.
When asked what they have seen, they reply, “I’ve seen a [expletive].”
They add, “Yeah it’s kind of just fun to chat with people.”
Driscoll goes on to have more conversations with other children, some who even disclose where they live.
“I didn’t expect two kids that quickly to talk to me and share that much information,” Driscoll said.
Telling strangers personal information is where the danger lies. Sites like Omegle can be a feeding ground for child predators.
“So, they are very good at manipulating the kids, scaring the kids. We’ve seen it with Tik Tok, obviously Omegle,” said Tammy Sneed.
Tammy Sneed is the Director of the Office of Human Trafficking Services for the Connecticut Department of Children and families.
“And they start to threaten the kids. They’ll say, ‘we want you to take your shirt off, we want you to take your clothes off and if you don’t, I’m going to come kill your parents.’ And when they’re that young, they believe it,” Sneed said.
Reporter Patricia Del Rio then went on Omegele to see who she encountered. She was met with pornographic images and met many young children, like a 13-year-old girl from California who says she has been scarred by adults performing lewd acts.
She says it’s upsetting.
“I mean it’s alright, like every now and then you get like a good conversation and then you get a grown man’s deal and then you just get some people who are mean, so like it’s nice to talk to a face. If you are okay with being scarred. I mean, I’ve actually had a pretty good day. I’ve only seen one today,” the girl said.
When asked if she meant she saw someone naked, she responded, “yeah.”
Omegle has been around for years, but its popularity has exploded during the pandemic.
Sneed says children home bored and online has a lot to do with it.
“It’s definitely increasing, and we are seeing younger and younger children on that app or watching some of those videos. I’ve had kids as young as seven to nine years old,” Sneed said.
Kids who prior to the pandemic might not be online at all.
“Kids that never had internet before have internet. There’s a lot of down time, there’s a lot of families that are struggling financially that are working, kids sometimes are home by themselves because of the pandemic,” Sneed said.
Omegle was started in 2009 out of Vermont by Leif K. Brooks. Channel 3 reached out to him for comment regarding concerns about the site, but he has not responded.
Omegle does state on the website that “chats are monitored,” but how often isn’t clear.
Driscoll says it is parents who have to monitor.
“What our kids get exposed to, the language, the obscenities, the pornography, you can’t take that back. Once a kid sees that, it’s in them,” Driscoll said. “And I think it’s something parents need to be aware of and we need to take an active approach. Learn about these things. Talk to our kids about it and get involved.”
It’s not all pornographic images that are on Omgele. People can legitimately talk to others around the world, practice their language skills, but one thing is certain, the website is no place for children.