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Within seconds a stranger asks if I'm a virgin... the internet dangers lurking for young teens.

Byline: EMMA GILL emma.gill@trinitymirror.com @FamilyManc

USING a fake profile and a photo of an M.E.N. journalist when she was just 14, we set ourselves up on 'rating' app Hot or Not.

Within minutes we'd had a message from a 30-year-old man saying 'you are a cutie', and a message from a 24-year-old quizzing me about my age. We'd also had 100 likes from men.

Most people have heard of the game 'kill, kiss, marry' and other similar apps. And sometimes such apps are harmless.

But some youngsters are also taking things to the next level by using apps and websites to let strangers rate their appearance.

For parents, their children's activity has near-impossible Alastair of In doing so they are not only opening themselves up to sometimes horrible criticism, but they are also making themselves vulnerable to paedophiles who use the internet as a hunting ground.

While many sites stipulate age restrictions, in reality there are few checks.

With statistics showing 59 per cent of UK children already using social media before the age of 10, age verification provider AgeChecked says parents do not believe current age verification measures are working effectively.

monitoring online become a task Graham, CEO AgeChecked New concerns were raised after the 'snog, marry, avoid' website 'snog.fm' was used by a company managing director from Reddish, Stockport, to subject a schoolgirl to four years of sexual abuse after meeting her through the site.

Web designer Gareth Hughes, then 36, lied about his age to groom the besotted girl after she began communicating with him when she logged onto the rating site.

Over the last week we've been taking a closer look at some of the websites and apps used by young people to see for ourselves the dangers they might pose.

Using our fake profile Kaycee Hartigan I signed up - sometimes pretending to be older - to see what a typical teen would be exposed to. And the results were quite shocking.

Within minutes of sharing my photo on the Hot or Not app, I'd had 100 likes from men, a message from one 30-year-old with the line 'you are a cutie' and a message from a 24-year-old quizzing me about my age.

When I tell him I'm 14, but old enough to know my own mind, 'oh really!' is his response, 'in what way?'.

Hot or Not is a rating site that allows users to rate the attractiveness of photos submitted voluntarily by others. The site offers a matchmaking engine called 'Meet Me' Omegle is another website teenagers are using, with the catchline 'talk to strangers.' .' In fact its own description warns 'predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.' . It states you must be 18 to use it, but worryingly you can do so from 13 plus with parental permission.

The idea is that you mention an interest - anything from a hobby to a place - and it sets up a chat with someone with a similar interest.

But whether my interests were 'dancing' or 'Manchester', the conversations only went one way and at a rapid rate.

Within seconds one man asked if I was a virgin, 'what's your better feature? your t**s or your a**?' and 'ever watch porn?'.

Another conversation became particularly strange when a man, who said he was 28, asked about my feet, whether I'd had my toes sucked and wanted to know whether I had sweat marks and smells in my shoes.

After declaring 'f***, that has me really hard now' and 'do you want to see how big?', he asked whether we could chat elsewhere, on 'kik, skype, or discord or anything to chat on'.

After giving him an email address, he contacted me in hangouts with a missed call and then the message 'I still want to show you'.

Some of the most disturbing photos were found using the Rate Me app, where users, who are supposed to be 18, share an image of themselves and people swipe to like it.

While some were simple headshots of people, others included a man lying on a bed showing that he was aroused and other shots of men's crotches.

I received private messages on there too, one asking 'do you have Snapchat by chance?' On the Snog.fm site I had to pretend to be 18 and my photos were soon being rated by strangers and given votes. I had a couple of personal messages but nothing too concerning. The more you 'snog, marry or avoid' people, the more widely your own profile picture is seen.

Reddit/rateme is another site being used by those seeking assurances over their appearance and there are plenty of 'subreddits' to join to ask for feedback, including 'am I ugly', 'am I sexy' and 'ugly duckling.'.

While users in certain groups are supposed to be 18 - and I couldn't get verified without a photo of 'Kaycee' holding a piece of paper with today's date - other 'subreddits' allow posts from younger people.

The study by AgeChecked, ahead of a Channel 4 documentary, questioned 1,500 parents on their concerns around online child safety - and found that 71pc are worried about the safety risks that these platforms present. Just under 70pc of parents voiced concerns that their children could be communicating with strangers online.

Alastair Graham, CEO of AgeChecked, said: "For parents, monitoring their children's online activity has become a near-impossible task. Social media companies have a duty of care to young people and must ensure that those who are accessing their sites meet their minimum age requirement." A spokesman for Badoo, owner of Hot or Not, said: "Cultivating a safe platform is our most important consideration. We have a responsibility to protect young and vulnerable people from any form of inappropriate misconduct.

"We have various safety features in place to help prohibit young people from using our platform, primarily, our photo verification.

"New joiners are asked to verify their profile by taking a selfie, while copying a specific gesture.

"This is then reviewed by one of Badoo's 5,000 moderators who flag any individuals that might be deemed underage for further verification. In the event of this happening, we ask users to provide additional identification to prove their age."

A spokesman for Rate Me said: "We prohibit the use of our application if the user is under the age of 18, which is written in the privacy policy. User must read it while registering his/her profile in the Rate Me application.

"We ask our users to report any violations of the rules of Rate Me and we immediately respond to each of these reports.

"Also, Google Play store restricts access to the application if the user does not meet age requirements."

In relation to some of the explicit images on the app, they said: "All photos pass several checks: one of them is a manual check."

In response to the recent court case involving the Snog app, the company said: "Security and safeguarding for our users is our main priority. User moderation and cleansing of Snog are performed daily to ensure that the community is free from users that may be attempting to break Snog terms and their countries' laws.

"Moving forward, Snog will become a 18+ only platform. Snog development are making these changes as soon as possible to coincide with the new Snog site.

"We would like to express our deepest sympathies to the girl and her family during this traumatic experience."

And apps age t"For parents, monitoring their children's online activity has become a near-impossible task Alastair Graham, CEO of AgeChecked

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Screenshots from three of the sites featured in our special investigation

An unpixelated version of this picture of an M.E.N. journalist aged 14 was used in the fake profile of 'Kaycee Hartigan'
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Manchester Evening News (Manchester, United Kingdom)
Date:Jul 13, 2019
Words:1306
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