ORLANDO, Fla. - We have all heard about the fun filters and streaks people have on Snapchat, but there is a darker side to the app that many parents do not even know exists.
It's called "Snapchat premium," and it is where some adults and even teens are selling racy, explicit photos and videos to anyone willing to pay to see them.
A spokesperson at Snapchat who asked not to be identified says Snapchat premium is not official, but reports it is a term used by individuals who use the private messaging side of the app to distribute adult content.
"This is against our Terms of Service and we remove these accounts when they are reported," the Snapchat spokesperson wrote to News 6. "These individual accounts are only discoverable on Snapchat because they are marketed on other platforms using a hashtag."
A quick search on several popular social media sites revealed a long list of people claiming to be young women and teens using and advertising their Snapchat premium accounts to sell graphic nude pictures and videos of themselves in an effort to entice subscribers.
They use apps such as Venmo, Cash App and PayPal to get instantly compensated.
Some boasted about getting paid thousands of dollars and many are getting just as many views.
News 6 found one person claiming to be a 21-year-old college sophomore from Florida, who was charging $25 for a monthly membership, or $10 for a personalized daily view.
We also found a person claiming to be an 18-year-old selling nude photos and premium Snapchat for cheap. That account has since been shut down.
The concern for parents is whether their children will try to do the same thing without them even knowing.
"Some call it their spam folders, their spam accounts, where the parents know about their regular account but don't know about the spam one where they only talk to certain people," said Jason Cook, the special agent supervisor for the cybercrimes unit at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "That's why parents need to be really diligent."
News 6 checked with Cook to see if there are any cases of minors using Snapchat premium locally, especially since News 6 and our sister station in Detroit found reports of underage teens using it to post graphic content for quick cash across the country.
"We haven't had a case like that yet, but I know that it is becoming more and more prevalent in the schools," Cook said. "So your school resource officers and your law enforcement that is in the school more regularly definitely needs to be on the lookout for it."
We checked with all 10 Central Florida school districts, and all of them say for now, this is not on their radar.
Again, most parents do not even know if their son or daughter has a premium account. Unlike normal Snapchat, where you can see who is out there, you have to be invited by the premium account holder to see this kind of content.
"If your child's not letting you in, there's probably a reason for it," Cook said. "So that's when you need to put on the parent hat and take charge."
So what can you do?
Cook recommends monitoring your children’s devices.
That means taking devices when they are not looking and going through their phone or tablet or computer.
Cook also suggests putting a monitoring app on your child's phone so you can see what apps they are downloading and spending time on when you are not looking.
"If there is stuff going on on that phone that you don't know about, your children could be in danger," Cook said. "You're not going to put a door to your child's bedroom that opens up to the outside world. It's the same thing with letting them have these internet-connected devices in their room, where you don't know what's going on. They need a parent, they don't need a friend."
Cook said these graphic images may appear to disappear on the Snapchat app, but they live on the web forever and can be copied and shared and sold without your knowledge or consent.
That could affect future employment, schooling and even relationships.
Cook said inviting people to view a premium account is also an easy way for child predators to try to contact your children.
"That's where the danger really lurks," Cook said. "Kids may be very tech savvy, but they may not be worldly wise when it comes to who they are talking to on the internet."
Cook said that is what could lead to cyber bullying or even worse -- teen suicide. Cook says some of these pictures can be classified as child porn, and can end up in the hands of child predators who share them in their own dark circles on the world wide web and sell them in their own collections.
"It can get out of hand pretty quick," Cook said. "As soon as you hit send, it's out there and you have no control over who's going to see it."
The company spokesperson states that when they are notified that a Snapchatter is violating the rules, they promptly investigate and remove the offending content if appropriate and may terminate the account.
The Snapchat app also has ways for users to block and report offenders.
To report abuse on Snapchat, users can press and hold on the open content until a flag button appears in the bottom left corner. Snapchat has also reportedly partnered with safety experts, such as Connect Safely, and built an online safety center to provide parents, teachers and Snapchatters with safety tips, research and resources to help keep users safe online.
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