Have old smartphones? Recycle them at a drive to prevent cyber crimes against kids

Updated: Feb. 18, 2022 at 5:00 PM CST
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - If you have any old smartphones or tablets laying around your house right now, you’ll probably want to go find them right away.

Child advocates are teaming up with law enforcement to collect those old handheld devices Wednesday and Thursday, February 23 and 24.

They’re doing it as they see more children becoming victimized online when they’re secretly using those old devices.

One mom’s experience seeing that happen right in front of her kickstarted a new effort to prevent more victims.

“I just mention my story because it caught me so off guard,” says Tana Koss, vice president of Family Services in Green Bay.

Koss has dedicated more than a decade of her life to working with children victimized by crimes.

She always considered herself extra cautious and alert.

That was until an incident several years ago with her foster son.

“He started acting really tired and irritable, so we were paying a little extra attention about what’s going on and found out he was using an iPod a friend had given him,” explains Koss.

“It was actually a broken iPod. You could hardly see through the screen.” But he still was able to connect to Wi-Fi and download an app, opening the door for unsupervised access to anyone he wanted.

“I cast no blame to the mom or dad of the friend who gave the iPod to our foster son, because at that same moment I had three or four devices in my own drawer,” says Koss.

She got rid of them and wants other parents to do the same.

“We will recycle your handheld devices, free of charge,” explains Holli Fisher, program manager at the Sexual Assault Center in Green Bay.

Family Services and law enforcement are holding a recycling drive at a number of locations Feb. 23-24, from 8 A.M. to 5:30 P.M., to make it easy for parents get rid of those old devices (see a list of collection sites at the end of this article).

“That’s all they’ve got to do is fire up that old phone or tablet, connect to the wi-fi and they’re back in the game,” says Sgt. Tracy Holschbach, a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.

“We have seen an increase in the number of child victims being exploited online, so they’re accessing devices either with or without their parents’ knowledge,” says Fisher. “A lot of times parents are unaware that this is even happening until law enforcement gets involved.”

“Kids are kids. They don’t understand it. They don’t have the mental capacity and the maturity to understand how dangerous technology is,” says Holschbach, adding technology can be positive as well.

But as an ICAC investigator, Holscbach deals with the dark side of internet activity.

Right now, her team is inundated investigating cyber crimes targeting kids.

“It’s absolutely heart-breaking, to be honest,” says Holschbach. “I don’t think the average person understands what these predators are doing.”

She says cyber tips to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children rose 97.5 percent between 2019 and 2020, when the pandemic started, and it’s only getting worse.

“I do feel like some of this, a lot of this, unfortunately, is avoidable,” says Holschbach.

They all hope this recycling drive is part of the solution.

“I want those old devices out so you don’t have to worry about them,” adds Koss.

About the drive:

Keep Kids Safe: Smartphone & Tablet Recycling Drive

February 23 and 24, 2022

Collection Hours: 8 A.M. - 5:30 P.M.

Drop your devices at any of these locations:

Family Services, 300 Crooks St., Green Bay

Ashwaubenon Public Safety, 2155 Holmgren Way, Ashwaubenon

Brown County Sheriff’s Office, 2684 Development Dr., Bellevue

Pulaski Police Department, 585 E. Glenbrook Dr., Pulaski

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