Online predator targets girl through music video app
A MELBOURNE mother has revealed the horrifying moment she witnessed her 8-year-old daughter being groomed by an online predator - who was posing as Justin Bieber.
Alicia was at her Melbourne home with her daughter Charli on Monday afternoon, when four message notifications from 'The Real Justin Bieber' popped up on Charli's iPad.
Alicia said that the messages were sent via the social media app Musical.ly, which allows users to sing along to their favourite tunes, and share their music videos with friends.
The app, which has been downloaded by more than 50 million people under the age of 21, first came onto the scene in 2014, but started to explode globally early last year.
"This is a massive app for kids, and is targeted to those under 21 years of age,” Alicia told news.com.au.
"Kids who use the app sing along to songs by Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and other artists, and then share the video with friends they have on the app.”
Alicia, who said she was one of the last mothers at her school to allow her daughter to download the app, said she made every attempt to ensure her daughter's Musical.ly profile was as private as possible.
"All the kids have been on it, and I was the last man standing,” she said.
"I thought I was being a mean mum by not letting her use it, so we set it up under my email and address and used a photo of both Charli and myself.”
Within 48 hours of downloading the app, Alicia's worst nightmare became a reality. An online predator made contact with her daughter via a string of messages.
"It's quite similar to Facebook in that you get notifications,” she explained.
"A notification popped up saying it was from 'The Real Justin Bieber', and I was like 'oh, who is that?'
"The message had Justin Bieber's photo on the screen, and it looked very real and well done.”
Alicia said her daughter opened the message in front of her, which went from being innocent to sickening.
"The first message said 'Who wants to win a 5 minute video call with me [Bieber],'” Alicia said, admitting that because Justin Bieber had just been in the country, it could be legitimate.
"The next message said 'All you need to do is send me a photo of you naked, or of your vagina'.
"I knew it was a professional groomer as soon as the final message popped up, because it was really encouraging her to send a photo. It read 'Lots of girls send me these pics all the time and I will never tell anyone you sent one.'”
Grabbing the iPad, Alicia "felt sick” at the thought of how many girls might've followed the instructions on the message.
"I was so thankful I was sitting with Charli when the message on the iPad came through,” she said.
"This app is an online predator's dream, because it clearly gives access to so many kids.
"What sickens me is how many young girls might've got this message in their bedroom, while their parents are downstairs cooking dinner, and decided to take a quick photo and send it. It could happen so easily.”
Taking the iPad to the police, Alicia said the officers were "horrified” by the content of the messages, but admitted the difficulty surrounding tracking down a predator who uses these apps.
"They said they were going to send out internal communications, but the person could be anywhere in the world and would be virtually impossible to track down,” she said.
"It's scary the way the world is.”
Alicia said while she believes her daughter doesn't understand the gravity of the situation, she has been incredibly brave and hopes the incident plays as a warning to other parents.
"Charli understands something has happened, and that the messages weren't from Justin Bieber,” she said.
"But rather a naughty man asking her to do something naughty, so I hope I've educated her. She doesn't fully understand, we didn't speak about child porn, which is a good thing.
"I was really apprehensive about coming forward, but if one innocent little baby remains innocent that is a good thing.”
News.com.au have contacted Musical.ly for comment.