Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers Wednesday warned local kids and parents about websites, including Omegle, being used to solicit pornographic images from young users.
Tuesday, “patrol took a report of a contact over the Omegle website between an 11-year-old girl and an unknown person who solicited inappropriate photos of the girl,” said Myers. “What apparently started as a text chat, quickly turned into a request for child pornography.”
The patrol officer who took the report, as well as Hoquiam detectives, had not heard of this website; after some research, “we were a bit shocked, to say the least,” said Myers.
“This website, and others to include Holla, Chatous, LiveMe, AHA and Meowchat are advertised as a way to connect, text, video-chat or play a video game with random strangers from all around the world,” said Myers. “With the restrictions created by the global COVID pandemic, apparently the popularity of these random stranger chat websites has exploded. What we have discovered is these websites are also a great way for sexual predators to contact your children in what you believe was the safety of your own home.”
Hoquiam detectives went on the Omegle website Wednesday morning. There is no log-in, no customer account or any other age verification or information required. You just click and within a second, a “stranger” responds, said Myers. Each time detectives checked the website, they were quickly solicited for a pic or the stranger asked for “asl” which is “age, sex, location,” said Myers.
The website has a disclaimer indicating it may not be appropriate for children: “Omegle (oh·meg·ull) is a great way to meet new friends, even while practicing social distancing. When you use Omegle, we pick someone else at random and let you talk one-on-one. To help you stay safe, chats are anonymous unless you tell someone who you are (not suggested!), and you can stop a chat at any time. Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful. If you prefer, you can add your interests, and Omegle will look for someone who’s into some of the same things as you instead of someone completely random. By using Omegle, you accept the terms at the bottom. You must be 18+ or 13+ with parental permission.”
“At this point, as far as we know there is NO WAY to trace, track or determine who these strangers are or where they are located in the world,” said Myers. “This makes prosecution all but impossible.”
Detectives have notified the school district so they are aware, as many children are still accessing school work over the Internet as classes only slowly start to resume in person, said Myers.
“Although these and other such websites may be blocked by a firewall, the only way to really keep your kids safe is to be aware what — and who — is really out there,” said Myers. “It is important to remind your children there are people in the world who will lie and manipulate the situation, contact and emotions in order to achieve their sexual desires and interests.”