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Hidden Dangers In App Nicknamed The 'Sexting App'

DENVER (CBS4) - Five million images are sent daily on a smartphone application that police say is becoming a tool for child predators.

The creators of Snapchat say the app was not made for sexting, but many have started calling it by the nickname "the sexting app." 4 On Your Side Investigator Rick Sallinger found some hidden dangers of the popular photo-sharing app.

Because the pictures are supposed to disappear within seconds, users think they are safe sending risqué or pornographic photos. But Sallinger found many times those seconds can lead to a lifetime of trouble.

Howard Herschel thought he was sending pictures to a 15-year-old girl. He took a snap, did a chat, trying to enlist the girl in a child pornography scheme; but it turned out to be with an undercover officer.

First arrested two years ago, Herschel was recently resentenced in a crime that has now gotten a big boost through social media.

"Right now it's being used by somebody to send inappropriate pictures to a kid, or someone is asking a kid to send their inappropriate pictures," Jefferson County District Attorney Investigator Mike Harris said.

The concept is simple: take a picture or short video and hit send – "now you see it, now you don't." It's become popular with teens.

"You click on it and look at for how long they say you can look at it, and then it's done, and then you can't look at it ever again," a young student said.

The sender controls the time it's visible -- from three to 10 seconds -- then the photo is gone. Or is it? Not quite. The person receiving can do a screen grab of it, which notifies the sender. But if you take a picture with another camera, the photo is captured and nobody is notified.

Green Mountain High School student Elizabeth George says a "stupid boy" told her to download Snapchat onto her phone, and what came next was not expected.

"He went and he sent me a picture of his 'wing wong' -- let's say that -- I was like, 'Dude, what the heck?' " George said.

It may be funny to some, but crushing to others.

"The girl screen-shotted one my cousin sent and it got posted up online and plastered all over the place, and he attempted to kill himself over it," said a student who didn't want to be identified.

An exchange of intimate photos between friends can suddenly be viewable by millions. Lakewood High School Principal Ron Castagna is too familiar with sexting and Snapchat.

"It almost always involves the police because it can be considered distributing of child porn," Castagna said.

Even if a photo is visible for a just a second, it can remain in a phone's internal workings.

Ashley Berry, 13, warns other students about high-tech dangers and their misconceptions.

"There's no records of anything that goes on Snapchat," Ashley said.

"There really isn't a way to monitor it, and that's probably the danger of Snapchat," Ashley's mother Anna Berry said.

Herschel didn't know he set up a meeting with an undercover officer. It could have been with anyone's child.

Snapchat was created by four Stanford University students. It does have settings to try to block unwanted photos and texts. The app's privacy policy states there are risks and "no company can prevent any risk." Facebook now has its own version.

Additional Information

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office recently released information about a new app that parents should know about called "KeepSafe" that can be used to hide photos. Read the news release to learn more.

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