A terrifying warning for all parents about a deadly scam aimed at teenagers online. A Tomball family is sharing their story about their son who was tricked, and it cost him his life. They want every parent or guardian of teens to know what happened to their family and what they wish they would have done differently.
Teen tricked online
Evan McDaniel was on the right track. Even as a small child he was engaging, loving, and productive. At 14 years old, Evan was doing well in school and his parents saw no signs of any trouble. Until it was too late.
“That’s just how out of the realm of possibility it is he did this,” said his mom Jennifer McDaniel.
What Evan did is what a lot of teens do. At the start of 2021, he made a connection with someone online. He had initial contact with someone online just 72 hours before his death.
“That was on Jan. 3rd and he died Jan. 6th,” explains dad, David McDaniel.
Even made contact with who he thought was a teenage girl, but turned out to be a criminal enterprise that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office later determined to be based in the Philippines.
“The FBI recently said there are 500,000 predators online every day, and of those 500,000, each of them can have multiple accounts and they are targeted our children,” said Crimestoppers CEO Rania Mankarious.
Evan’s parents say it started when he visited a website called omegle.com, which bills itself as a way to meet strangers online, and that includes video chat. Whoever was on the other end of the line with Evan appears to have recorded a compromising video of him. They threatened to expose Evan if he didn’t pay. And when he didn’t pay and stopped responding, they sent a screen grab to his sister and cousin and moved the conversation to Instagram.
“The language and the threats just kept escalating, but he was in bed, he wasn’t allowed his phone,” said David McDaniel.
Evan’s family had internet rules
Evan’s parents have strict rules about their kids’ internet access times. They physically took Evan’s phone from him every single night. The next day though, on Jan. 6 when Evan got his phone back, the messages were waiting for him.
“You’re family, their life is ruined. Your life is ruined. This video is going to go viral and you might as well kill yourself because your life is over,” said Jennifer.
Within a half-hour of reading those messages, Evan did exactly that. A 14-year-old boy who ended his own life never knowing who was threatening him.
These are parents who took precautions by collecting devices and checking them often. But Crime Stoppers CEO Rania Mankarious says don’t stop there. You should also go deeper into the conversations.
“You are going to meet people you have never seen in real life that tell you, they’re your age, they’re in a different state, country, (and) nine times out of 10, that’s not real,” said Rania.
To put that plainly, make your kids understand that most basic point. And there’s another talking point the McDaniels replay in their heads: Remind your kids there’s no problem too big that you can’t work out together.
“We never told him if you do mess up, and something happens on the internet, come to us,” said Jennifer.
There’s virtually no way to find the unknown criminals responsible here. They are most likely on foreign soil. The McDaniels have heard from other families who have lost teens in the same exact way. They just hope now that Evan’s story might help another family.
4 ways to protect your kids online
There are steps you can take to help protect your kids while they are online. Child safety advocate Jacquelyn Aluotto is the CEO of Real Beauty Real Women. She recommends four things every parent must do now to protect their children while they are online.
- Start looking at everything your children are sending and receiving on social media. Aluotto says every single day you should check their devices and monitor who they were talking to on the internet. Check sent messages and check deleted content too. You can never be too nosy when it comes to your kids.
- Add an extra layer of security. Download powerful child internet security apps like Bark, Net Nanny, and Life360 which track your kids. These parental control apps can keep up with every place your child has been. You can also use the apps to block certain content or to set time restrictions on internet use.
- Turn off location on devices. Aluotto says you don’t ever want someone online to know where your kids are. This also includes when posting on social media and tagging locations, or posting identifiable places they frequent like the ballpark or dance studio. This is giving predators a roadmap for where they can find your kids in person.
- Check apps. Predators are not just using social media to get to kids. Your kids may download games and apps without knowing what they are actually allowing on their devices. These child sex predators have even gone as far as creating their own online games to attract unsuspecting kids. One group actually copied a popular Disney game featuring penguins and filled it with sexual images. Disney forced that game to shut down. To help combat this problem, you can set your devices so your child has to ask for approval before downloading apps. Check reviews for apps and games and make sure they look legit.