MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Like any parent Lindsey Paris loved sharing pictures of her son online for friends and family to see.
She also used family pictures for her blog until one day when she clicked one of her new follower’s Facebook profiles.
“Low and behold her cover photo was my son’s photo and she was posting it and conversing with her friends as if he was her own. They were like he is so cute I love his red hair. When is he going to start teething?” said Paris.
Paris was horrified and messaged the girl asking her to take it down.
“I found out she was a 16 year old girl who lived in California and spoke little to no English, and fortunately she had no malice. She always wanted a redheaded son she said and didn’t think she had hurt my feelings by taking my picture. Basically playing house to the highest degree,” said Paris.
The 16-year-old took those pictures down, but that was not an isolated incident.
It’s called digital kidnapping.
“We see it quite frequently,” claims Len Edwards the director of the Commission of Missing and Exploited Children.
Edwards said this type of online role playing was popular with some teenagers and predators.
“There is a reality, and there is a fantasy. People are creating fantasy adoptions, people are creating virtual fantasies. It may be just an obsessive act on their part but it can be manipulated to become dangerous,” said Edwards.
This could turn into a real child abduction or even child pornography.
“They can take those pictures and they can take them and manipulate them, and shadow them and put clothes on them and take clothes off of them,” said Edwards.
He told us all a “sharent,” or a person who wants to share a picture while pretending, had to do was click on certain well known hashtags on Instagram.
There’s a bank of thousands of pictures up for grabs as a part of this unusual game.
“Every parent’s prized possession is their child and I think that you seeing your child’s photograph on another person’s website that shouldn’t have it is quite frightening,” said Edwards.
According to Facebook and Instagram’s user agreements, you gave permission for worldwide use of your pictures based on your privacy settings.
Edwards recommended being proactive about preventing a digital kidnap before it happens by making your account and all pictures private to anyone but your friends you know and trust.
You could also run the pictures through apps that will stamp a watermark on it so it’s identified as yours.
Despite that if you realize your child’s identity has still been high jacked immediately contact the site’s administrators and make them aware.
Since becoming a victim, Paris said she changed the way she posts photos and encouraged you to adopt a privacy setting you are comfortable with.
“I don’t overshare. I don’t use my son’s real name. I watermark a lot of my photos, and I’m just really careful about what appears in the photos and all that sort of stuff,” said Paris.
Paris believed it was important for all parents to take this seriously.