Many moms rely on one another for tips as to where kids can play safely. Pandora has three young boys, and she’s always trying to find new ways to help her boys stay mentally engaged and entertained. Her oldest son, John (not his real name), was 13 years old and loved computer games. So when a mom friend recommended a particular gaming site, Pandora was delighted. The massive games site seemed like a one-stop gamer’s dream. And sign-up was easy: just enter an age, username and password.
Enter the Predator
Soon John was spending hours every week playing the many great kid-friendly games that the site offers. He made several friends, including a 13-year-old girl using the screen name “Ashbaby.” She seemed really interested in John and the two quickly became more than just online friends. Ashbaby sent John a photo of herself, which just added fuel to the fire of young love. Like a lot of adolescents, John felt pressure at school to have a girlfriend. He quickly fell under the spell of his new online friend, romantically filling in the gaps of information with his imagination. He felt like he was really getting to know her even though they’d never met in person.
John and his game site friends moved their conversations to a social media site, where they shared things like their cell phone numbers via private accounts. Ashbaby continued to say all the things John needed to hear, giving him that romantic connection teens crave. Over time, she urged John to share more and more explicit photos and videos of himself. John even sent her a photo of his house with his address. He told her that he loved her, and that he trusted her more than he trusted his own family.
Mom and MTV’s Catfish
Meanwhile, Pandora wasn’t monitoring his phone because she wanted to give John some space. He’d always been a good kid. He seemed to be managing his online time pretty well. Over the next two years, however, John seemed increasingly withdrawn. Not himself. At first she wrote it off to him being a “moody teen.” Even then, something about his behavior didn’t seem right.
For the preceding year, she’d been a fan of MTV’s Catfish and had learned on the show how Spokeo helps people catch catfishers. So, one day she asked John to show her his phone. He reluctantly turned it over.
A Horrifying Revelation
In the numerous messages John had exchanged with Ashbaby and the “others,” Pandora discovered overwhelming evidence of classic pedophile grooming. She found several phone numbers on John’s phone, as if different people were texting him. But when Pandora searched every phone number on Spokeo, she learned that they all belonged to a single adult man. Then, to her horror, she discovered the photos and videos her son had been sending the man.
Pandora ran a reverse image search on Google for the one photo that Ashbaby had sent John. Not only had the photo had been stolen, but the girl in the photo was actually a 13-year-old girl who’d killed herself.
Shaking with rage, Pandora found the latest text that the predator had sent her son and typed a response…
“I KNOW WHO YOU ARE”
At first, John couldn’t believe what his mother was telling him, but when the police detectives took his phone for evidence and opened the investigation, he gradually understood how he’d been tricked. Through the experience, even Pandora’s two younger boys have also learned not to trust what people tell them online, that people can easily misrepresent themselves.
Pandora regrets sending that text, but any parent would have understood the impulse. The investigation is still underway.
Pandora warns parents that they should search their children’s contact numbers on Spokeo. “I wish I’d done it sooner,” she says. “But maybe if we get the word out, other parents won’t have to go through what we’re going through.”
We hope she’s right.