“They took it upon themselves and said something needs to be done about this."By Andrea Alvarez

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – After hundreds of sexual abuse cases against children were investigated, police are fighting back against cybercriminals.

In a digital age, Tampa Bay detectives say it’s becoming increasingly difficult to monitor children and teen’s cell phone activity. Last year, the Haines City Police Department worked nearly 200 cases of sexual and physical abuse against children, most of which involved the use of cell phone applications.

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“They went through and looked at every case and we counted them and I think 196 was the number we came up with from 2020. Numbers so far look pretty similar this year,” said Haines City Police Public Info Officer Mike Ferguson. “In a good amount of these cases where there is abuse, whether physical or sexual of children, a lot of times the grooming process is done with social media apps.”

CW44 News reporter Andrea Alvarez researched and found that among the apps being used for these cybercrimes are Snapchat, Kik App or Kik Messenger, Houseparty, Voxer and dozens more. So, the Haines City Police Department and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office are on the counterattack.

“They took it upon themselves and said something needs to be done about this,” said Ferguson.

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On January 12th, detectives working these cases are teaming up to sit down with you.

“What [parents] can do. Where to look. What apps are used. How they’re used maliciously and also where their children may be hiding some files,” said Ferguson.

They’re giving firsthand information in hopes of preventing it from happening in your home.

“There may be apps on a child’s phone that you’ve never heard of and you think, ‘maybe it’s harmless’. Even some of the emoji’s that are used in text messages have certain meanings that a parent wouldn’t know,” said Ferguson.

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You don’t have to live in Haines City to attend the workshop. It’s free and open to the public. You don’t have to RSVP. The workshop takes place at the Lake Eva
Event Center, 799 Johns Ave., on January 12 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Refreshments
will be served.