HOPKINTON — Local police are asking parents to be on alert and talk with their children about online safety after several residents reported a social media scam aimed at soliciting nude photographs of adolescents.
The police said they had confirmed two such reports in the past week and three within the past 10 days.
"We are releasing this information in hopes of notifying parents and protect the community before we are dealing with a larger problem," said Hopkinton Police Capt. Mark Carrier. "It is extremely important for parents to talk with their children about what platforms they are using and to remain vigilant for this type of activity."
In the Hopkinton cases, a person tried to befriend young teenagers on Instagram using the screen name Sahdude17 and then asked them to move to Snapchat and communicate with Thiskidrock17. After establishing rapport, the operator requested nude photographs.
Carrier said the effort seems to be aimed at young people ages 13 to 15.
Given the sensitive nature of the photos, they could be used to harm someone's reputation or for the purpose of blackmail — including requests to meet or to send additional photos.
Police said they would try to trace the messages, but Carrier noted that the IP addresses often "bounce" between locations, including across state and international borders. In many cases, they are unable to ever locate the suspect.
Beyond the matter of personal harm, the police said they were concerned that the scammer could be asking children take part in the production and distribution of child pornography.
"For the children to take pictures of themselves naked and send them online is a violation of state laws as written," Carrier said. "We certainly don't want to charge children who have been duped into falling victim, but at the same time we do have a responsibility to at least report cases where it appears a crime has been committed."
Carrier noted that in previous cases, adults in Hopkinton were the subject of blackmail attempts after sharing sensitive photos of themselves, but he added that there is nothing illegal about adults sharing pictures of themselves with willing participants. He said that a child, who may not be mature enough to realize the danger, is a far more vulnerable target.
Carrier advised that parents to speak in detail with their children, remind them of online hazards, and create a supervision plan that would prevent a child from falling victim to such requests.
Carrier said parents are more than welcome to contact the police department if they have have questions or concerns.
"This is one of those things that parents 25 years ago never had to worry about," he said. "Times have changed, and challenges like these are a part of being a parent in 2019."