KYLE, Texas – If your child or teen has a phone or smart device, you should be monitoring their communications.
That was the urgent plea from the Hays County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday during a press conference about an accused child predator.
Diego Alejandro Cortez, 24, is facing felony charges of continuous sex abuse of a child, child trafficking to engage in sexual conduct, 10 counts of possession of child pornography and a misdemeanor charge of harboring a runaway child.
Investigators said he targeted young girls over Snapchat, but emphasized that it’s not the only worrisome app.
“There’s an entire list, there are so many apps these days that you’re able to reach people, I can’t list them all,” said Deputy Anthony Hipolito with the Hays County Sheriff’s Office.
The settings in many apps, including Snapchat, default so that your location data is tracked and could be available for other users to see.
Investigators said Cortez met the girls on Snapchat, identifying some through the maps feature and then friending others based on the app’s friend suggestion. He portrayed himself as a young person to develop relationships and earn the girls’ trust, investigators said. He would then invite them to meet up.
“Unfortunately, these victims found themselves in situations they had never been in, and they didn’t know their way out and unfortunately from there, he took advantage of opportunities,” said Sgt. Mark Opiela with the Hays County Sheriff’s Office.
HCSO officials urged parents to monitor their children’s social media use and to have conversations about internet safety.
“It’s important that we as parents have an obligation to monitor those devices. We have a responsibility to ensure the safety of our children. And when we fail to do that, unfortunately, evil is out there,” Opiela said. “Evil will find our kids if we don’t do our job.”
Hipolito advised that parents should know the passwords to the devices and applications their children have access to. He urged them to check those devices daily and monitor communications. He recommended that parents should download monitoring software and suggested a website that could have helpful for parents — CatfishCops.com.
Additional resources through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.