‘You want to be my friend?’ Don’t trust. Verify

"Friend Verifier" claims it can scan the National Sex Offender Registry

Kids at Portland Boys and Girls Club discuss social media. (KOIN 6 News)
Kids at Portland Boys and Girls Club discuss social media. (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Marcus Harris is like many other teens. “I like to be social with my friends,” he said. “I use social media very often.”

He and other kids at the Portland Boys and Girls Club said it’s a good way to answer questions about homework or school activities and check in on what friends are doing.

Facebook being accessed from a laptop computer. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
Facebook being accessed from a laptop computer. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

“A lot of kids do this to try to be popular,” said Nehemiah Dedmon, another member of the Boys and Girls Club.

Isaiah Mitchell, 14, said they often accept people on their page as “friends” that they don’t even know. “I just accept all the friend requests unless they look too weird,” he said.

A teen known as Mr. Ford said his cousin even challenged him to a friending contest: “…who could get the most friends.”

He said his total had grown to 865 and estimated 500 of those “friends” were people he didn’t know.

Mitchell said he had about 360 people on his page that he didn’t know.

Kids who friend strangers could be exposing their pictures and personal information to potential sex offenders.

However, there are some tools available to make folks more aware of who they are adding as friends on social media.

The app

A new app called “Friend Verifier” claims it can scan the National Sex Offender Registry to see if your friend’s names are a match to convicted sex offenders.

The Friend Verifier app on Facebook (February 2015)
The Friend Verifier app on Facebook (February 2015)

With the permission of parents, KOIN 6 News used this new app called on teens at the Portland Boys and Girls Club to check Facebook pages.

To get the app, type in “Friend Verifier” in Facebook’s search bar and click “scan”.

Within a minute, a tab pops up with a warning list of possible offenders for both friends and “friend requests.”

A Yellow Warning signals a potential name match. Orange warns you of a match to name and address, while a Red Warning is a match for name, address and date of birth.

During the KOIN 6 News test at the Boys and Girls Club, there were 20 to 50 Yellow Warnings.

Teens test the app at Boys and Girls Club in Portland. (KOIN 6 News)
Teens test the app at Boys and Girls Club in Portland. (KOIN 6 News)

Two of the teens, Ford and Mitchell, each had an Orange Warning (match of name and address.)

“It was this dude that, well, they didn’t even give a description, they said it was, like, in Southeast Portland,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell said he planned to delete that person from his friend list. “I don’t think I should accept everyone’s requests.”

Harris, who said he posts “a lot of personal stuff,” said he is going to rethink what he’s doing on Facebook when it comes to friending strangers.

It’s important to note the “Friend Verifier” app is not a 100% guarantee of safety or accuracy.

Law enforcement

“I will tell you as a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure you know what your kids are doing,” said FBI spokesperson Beth Anne Steele.

Steele said the FBI can’t endorse third-party apps or computer programs, but she said it’s important for parents to have conversations with their children about “friending” strangers on social media.

“There is no way that you know that person is a 50-year-old predator,” said Steele.

Steele said the best thing you can do is to never friend someone you have not met in person.

“We always encourage kids and adults not to friend anybody on a social media platform that they don’t know in real life,” said Steele. “You wouldn’t just randomly pick some person off the street and say, ‘Hey, do you want to be my friend?’  You shouldn’t do that on social media either.”

Kids at Portland Boys and Girls Club discuss social media. (KOIN 6 News)
Kids at Portland Boys and Girls Club discuss social media. (KOIN 6 News)

She also warns kids that “friending” someone you don’t know appears to give that stranger a stamp of approval to others in your circle of friends.  It can therefore expose them to stranger dangers as well.

“There is no guarantee that if they say they are Joey’s friend that they really are that person’s true friend,” said Steele. “They may have well scammed that person or put up a false identity to that person just as easily.”

Parents

If you’re an adult, it’s not a bad idea to check your own page.

Michael Walker, the Program Director at the Boys and Girls Club, tested it out. “I found like two, three actually, and one was red.  I was kind of concerned about that,” he said.

“I think it’s something we can definitely spread the news about,” Walker said.  “Check who’s on your social media sites.”

Betty Harris said she’s going to test her kids’ and grandkids’ pages. “I am doing mine when I get home.”

“I have a son and a daughter and I have 8 grandchildren,” said Harris. “I’m very concerned what they do on the computer.”

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