CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
They're called digital kidnappers and they may be playing games with your child's photo. This isn't just something you read about on the internet, it's happening right here in the Tennessee Valley.
Channel 3 investigated a scary new online trend and found complete strangers were using local kids as fronts for pretend vacations, days out and even adoptions.
For parents, social media can serve as the best kind of brag book. With one click you can share milestones and memories with friends and family but even with the tightest privacy settings, your child's photos can fall into the wrong hands.
As one mom in Ringgold learned – it's all legal and it's impossible to get them back.
"It never crossed my mind when I uploaded that picture to Facebook, that this would happen," said Bridgett Parm.
Bridgette Parm says it wasn't until a woman she has never met messaged her on Facebook that she realized pictures of her 9 month-old daughter were being used in a game of baby role-playing.
In the game also known as "Digital Kidnapping," players pretend your child is really theirs in an online fantasy world. It's like "playing house" online with other people's children.
"I mean there was pictures of us at the grocery store, of Hadley in the shopping cart like a big girl and he even wrote on the caption 'going shopping with daddy,'" said Parm.
The account allegedly belonging to a man in Texas, detailed a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium with pictures of Parm's daughter. When Hadley's real mom confronted him about the lies, the account was deleted only to show up again under a different name. Parm saved screen shots as evidence. Detective David Scroggins tells Channel 3, while baby role-playing may seem creepy, it isn't a crime.
"Once these parents put those photos out in the public domain via Facebook. Instagram, MySpace or whatever public social networking site they are on, it is just that... they are public," said David Scroggins, Rossville Police Dept. Internet Crimes Against Children Task force.
Detective Scroggins who investigates internet sex crimes against children, says there is no such thing as complete privacy online. Strangers can copy shared, tagged and hash tagged photos from private accounts.
"You absolutely need to be concerned about how well am I protecting my children and you need to be concerned about it before you post that picture out there," said Det, Scroggins.
Channel 3 discovered 9 month-old Hadley isn't alone. Just search #babyrp or #babyroleplay on instagram or facebook and you'll find thousands of stolen baby photos with fantasy captions. The game is popular with with teens and preteens is not always with bad intentions.
Channel 3 found role playing parents commenting on one photo of a baby girl claiming she was born February 3rd and was found on a doorstep. Another photo of 5 month-old boy shows he is up for a fake adoption, likes pacifiers and kisses. It goes on and on. Perhaps one of the most disturbing finds in our investigation where the baby role-playing photos posted with comments in a sexual nature. One role player commented on 4-year-old's photo, writing, "she is bisexual and single." Detective Scroggins tells Channel 3 fantasies such as these can lead to more serious crimes.
"I don't see there is just role-play or just fantasy here, it's tied to that desire... these people are dangerous," said Det. Scroggins. "How attached does someone else get to that photo? How obsessed to they become with that child? Its an issue, every parent should be concerned with."
While baby role-playing is not illegal, there are obvious lines crossed that make it illegal. If the photo is used to solicit sex or shows a child being abused, report that online and to authorities immediately.