(WMC-TV) – There is a new way to scan for sex offenders in your online neighborhood. Millions of people have Facebook friends they don't even know. And if there are kids in your life, that could open the door to predators.
"The developer of a new "Friend Verifier" app says the idea actually popped in his head years ago, back when Myspace was all the craze. At that time it was just a running joke to create what he calls a "creepy guy filter." Now years later, that joke has turned into a serious app with big promises.
When it comes to her daughter's online life, Lori says there are no secrets.
"I monitor her Facebook page regularly," Lori Coates said. "I know her password. She changes it, she lets me know and I can get in and read her messages."
Maddie says although most of her friends don't really talk about online predators, it still crosses her mind.
"It's seriously scares me, you never know that could be you some day and you just never know what could happen," 13-year-old Maddie Robinson said.
The problem is many teenagers see their friendship count as a way to gauge popularity. They accept requests from people they've never met before.
"All those kids have thousands of friends, and half of them or more than half of them they don't even know. They could be anybody," Garrett Porter said.
That's where this new "Friend Verifier" app comes in. Once downloaded, you can scan your current friends and any friend requests against every single sex offender registered in the U.S. Since March it's scanned more than half a million Facebook friends and counting.
Of course, the app isn't perfect.
"If they have a very common name, it's going to pop up and you might have eight matches," Lori Coates said.
It's not until you click on the link below that you can see a mug shot, name, address and physical description. A glitch the developer says will be fixed in the next update.
There are other options. For one, you can report a sex offender directly to Facebook. Or each state's law enforcement agency allows you to search your address, so you can see where registered sex offenders live in proximity to your home. Plus it also offers an email alert system so you know immediately when someone moves into your neighborhood.
"When my kids are at a certain age, I'll show them pictures so they're aware," mother Andrea Bental. "So if they see this person hovering around you need to be aware they're up to no good and to let me know."
"I think your personal involvement with your children is first and foremost you can't rely on and an app to provide any kind of security for your children," Lori Coates said.
A new version of this app is in the making. The developer says they are addressing some of the glitches by adding a color coated flag system. That means yellow would appear if your Facebook friend's name matches a registered sex offender. And if you see red, that means the name, state and date of birth are all a match.
Facebook's policies clearly state convicted sex offenders are not allowed to register for an account, but it's nothing more than a good faith system. Facebook tells us they do have an "automated system in place that searches for suspicious activity and they check user names against the sex offender database on a regular basis."