Do you have dangerous digits? The I-Team is exposing a problem more common than you'd think; in one case a 13-year-old girl ended up owning an escort's former number.
Almost all of us have our very own phone number. But do you really know where those digits have been? The I-Team uncovered the concern over dangerous digits and the risk to children.
Monika Takahashi contacted the I-Team when her 13-year-old daughter started receiving graphic messages and sexual images sent by text.
"'Hey baby, how are you today.' Pictures of men's genitals," Takahashi said the texts contained. "Asking where she was and where they could meet up with her tonight."
"And my daughter had told me, and I told her to turn the phone off immediately," she said.
Takahashi said her daughter was receiving those alarming and offensive messages from adult men on her new phone. Takahashi had purchased the phone so she could stay connected with her daughter.
"I'm a member of the National Guard and I travel a lot, so I'm not home a lot of the time. Sometimes for six months out of the year. I wanted to make sure that my children had a phone so I could stay in contact with them," Takahashi said.
The phone was new, but Takahashi and her daughter quickly learned the number had previously been used by an escort named Pebbles. They Googled the number and discovered ads connected to it.
"They were asking her where she was, where they could meet up, where they could meet for the evening, 'hey baby,' sending pictures, naughty pictures to my 13-year-old. It was very shocking," she said.
Fortunately the teen never met up with anyone. She and her mom said they deleted most of the texts immediately, but held on to this one:
Sender: "aren't you pebbles? I miss you. You r my momma"
Takahashi's daughter: "I am not pebbles! Who is this pebbles you speak of"
Sender: "I use to go out with her to buy her clothes n stuff but she never gave me her real name..."
Takahashi said her daughter is now in therapy.
"It wouldn't surprise me that a child experiencing something like this might feel the world is dangerous and that would make them more anxious," said Colleen Cicchetti, executive director for the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children's Hospital.
Cichetti is a psychologist. She is not treating Takahashi's daughter, but spoke in general terms about the impact of receiving those kinds of texts.
"It certainly makes them feel vulnerable," she said. "Kids have this sense that the world is a safe place, that we as adults create that shield, and when things happen - no matter whether it's something like this or an actual event that shatters that feeling that the world is safe - a lot of kids do have some sort of reaction."
"This isn't something that's going to stop as long as it's published here," Takahashi said. "I contacted T-Mobile and told them that they have given me a published number on these websites, and their response was basically that I should have been monitoring the phone a lot better."
T-Mobile did give the girl a new number, and told the I-Team, "There was no way that our store rep could have known when the phone number was issued that it previously belonged to a prostitute. No telecommunications company would ever be able to know that about a recycled phone number. This was a very unique and unfortunate situation."
"There has to be some sort of safety net in place for people like me who are not with their children and are giving phones to their children for safety nets, when in actuality it's creating a danger," Takahashi countered.
The phone company responded, saying, "It would be logistically impossible, but also we can't look up former customer information without their express consent."
T-Mobile added it can recycle a number 60 days after disconnection, but in big cities like Chicago it can be 30 days.
The I-Team asked other major providers about their policies. AT&T and Sprint would not give the I-Team an answer.
Verizon Wireless said it retires numbers for a minimum of 50 days, and if a customer alerts them to an issue they will remove the number from circulation for three to 12 months. The Federal Communications Commission allows a number to be shelved for up to one year.
When asked why the cell phone companies aren't aging the cell phone numbers for a full year, Chicago Police Detective Charles Hollendoner had a simple answer: "The demand is too high."
Hollendoner said recycled numbers are increasing children's exposure to pornography and other inappropriate texts.
"Sometimes they get text messages, maybe it's from a former boyfriend, a former girlfriend, an angry text, and then sometimes they get maybe pictures and videos that are inappropriate, to say the least, for kids their age," Hollendoner said.
And if a child responds to a message the danger can be even greater.
"The child may not say anything because they may think they did something to cause this to happen," Hollendoner said. "So the key for parents is to make sure that you are going through your kid's phone and you are looking at what they are doing, or saying, or who they are talking to."
Takahashi said she is grateful her daughter quickly alerted her to the messages.
"It made me sick to my stomach. It was absolutely disgusting to see that," she said.
If your child has their own phone, experts say you should monitor texts and call history. Some phones will allow you to remotely view their texts.
There are also warning signs if your child has been affected by inappropriate texts or calls. You may notice they are more clingy, changes in appetite or sleep, or not wanting to engage in activities.
You should also always Google a new number, even search it in online classifieds, before you accept it.