Kids sharing their deepest, darkest secrets with sympathetic strangers online? What could possibly go wrong?
Once upon a time, 45-year-old Gerard Daniel Lazarus was one of those sympathetic strangers. Today, he’s pleaded guilty to 13 offences, including multiple counts of transmitting and soliciting child pornography.
His weapon of choice? Whisper, an anonymous “confessional” app notorious for its explicit content.
Among his victims was a high-school girl who confessed she had feelings for one of her teachers. Seizing the opportunity, Lazarus proceeded to impersonate that teacher, extorting nudes from the unsuspecting teen while assuring her he loved her and was going to leave his wife for her.
It was only when the real teacher was confronted by the girl - and stunned by her insistence that they’d been in a relationship for months - that Australian Federal Police were alerted and the scam came to light.
How Whisper works
The app invites users to post their thoughts, aka “whispers,” and an accompanying image. The content is often sexual, and profanity is rife. Many whispers are clear attempts to attract replies and likes (called “hearts”).
Despite claims of “complete absence of identity,” Whisper encourages private communication, allowing users to exchange photos and personal info, and is often used as a hook-up app.
It has an age restriction of 17+, but verification procedures are non-existent, while geolocation is active by default and, even if disabled, can still determine users’ city, state and country.
Whisper was among Lazarus’ favourite hang-outs for seeking out potential victims. Like many other predators, his modus operandi included shifting to a variety of different platforms - including Yahoo, Snapchat and Kik - using different user names.
The Newcastle Herald reports that, in court, Lazarus’ crimes were described as “persistent and continued” attempts to groom young girls as young as 13, and engage them in discussions of “extreme acts of violence and rape.”
What you can do to protect your child
As an undercover internet detective, Family Zone cyber expert Brett Lee posed as a child online to catch predators. He was always asked the same questions.
Here, he reveals what those questions were - and how to reduce the risk that your child will be targeted by 50% … with one simple rule.
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