By Wyatt Goolsby
MIDLAND - A warning for parents. An increasingly popular website could pose a threat to your kids, especially from sex offenders. In a NewsWest 9 special report, why some are saying chatroulette.com is far more dangerous, then just what you see on the screen.
It's called chatroulette.com, it's a website that in less than seven months, has skyrocketed in popularity. All you need is Internet access and a web camera to get started. There's no log-in, no warning, no filter. You just go to chatroulette.com and the camera connects you with someone else from anywhere online.
"The way this works is, you go onto chatroulette and it's almost like a roulette wheel, anyone can pop up at anytime and chat with your children," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told NewsWest 9. "So your child could, just by happenstance, begin to chat with someone who is a registered sex offender who is looking for a child to target, to harm."
Attorney General Abbott told NewsWest 9 the foreign-based website poses extreme danger to children. At any time, you can click a button to shuffle to someone new. However, officials say the problem is you'll never know what's next. An undercover state investigation shows nearly half of all users immediately expose themselves and conduct sexually explicit acts on camera. The site is supposed to be for 16-years-old and up, but the rules are not clearly enforced.
"We can't establish that what chatroulette is doing is illegal so what we are focused on doing is warning parents, warning teens about the dangers of this for potential users of the Internet," Abbott explained.
NewsWest 9 asked Midland parent Kathy Garcia to visit the website. Within the first five minutes, what she saw absolutely shocked her.
"Disturbing...just random men, on camera ready to talk, scary men, and then naked women, and then an advertisement like it was fun, hilarious, with teens my children's age, like it's ok," Kathy Garcia explained.
But Garcia said it's not ok. She said it doesn't help that there's a local section of chatroulette that's allows you to be connected only with people from your home town. With a teen alone online, it's a parent's worst nightmare.
"These people on here, they know how to talk to these kids because they are predators, and predators of all people, this would be a great website for them to go after teenagers," Garcia said.
It was enough of a wake up call for Kathy Garcia to send out a warning to other parents.
"Avoid it. Educate yourself about your computer, we're busy," Garcia explained. "Our kids have Facebook and get a Facebook, and you're on their Facebook, or you have the pass to their MySpace, and you think that's all they're doing. It's not. There's so much more out there, that my kid posts something on Facebook, and I think I know what's going on, and I don't."
Attorney General Abbott reminds parents to closely monitor their children's Internet activities by using the following safety tips:
• Place the computer in a public room at home so that parents can monitor their children's Internet use. Do not allow computers in a child's bedroom or permit the use of Web cameras.
• Make sure children know never to agree to a face-to-face meeting with someone they meet online and never to divulge personal information to an Internet stranger.
• Stay informed. Surf the Internet with children or at least talk to them about the Web sites they are visiting.
• Establish ground rules for children's Internet usage, including the hours they may surf and the kinds of Web sites they may visit. Post the rules near the computer.