What is Digital Kidnapping? Find Out Here

What is digital kidnapping? Well unless you have been living under a rock, or you don’t post many pictures, it is a very disturbing phenomenon happening with increasing frequency in social channels. 

Instagram, Facebook, dating sites and even porn sites on the internet in regions all over the world are dealing with it. Join me as I answer the question, what is digital kidnapping.

Ok, So What Is Digital Kidnapping

Everybody loves to post pictures of the kids and family. It’s an easy way for everyone to stay in touch and allow our extended families watch them grow as well.

Families and friends like the pride that comes with showing their beautiful child. But, once we post that picture, it could end up anywhere.

Now, people are stealing your pictures of kids, or sister, brother anyone, and creating a whole new profile. A scary new trend called digital kidnapping.

Is Digital Kidnapping Just Role Playing

People are posting these pictures everywhere, and claiming to be the mother of a child, or friend of a famous person and creating a whole scenario around the picture. People call this role playing, I call it sad.

It is tragic for parents, who see their child exploited in such a way. Nobody wants to see a friend or relative compromised in such ways.

The International Business Times posted an article in September of 2015. It described a new and disturbing “role playing game” on Instagram. Pictures were used in a way that began taking this “role playing” to a new level.

A Virtual Adoption

Clearly, a virtual adoption agency had formed. And pictures were displayed to virtual parents looking for a certain child type. They would then make up profiles of these stolen pictures, describing them as their own child.

Sadly, Instragram (at that time) never responded to inquiries about the persons account that was using and displaying the pictures. Partly because role playing as any fictional person you want to play like Superman, or a rock star even is common.

Groups Have Formed For Role Playing

So, as odd as it sounds to people like you and me who are unfamiliar with it, using someone’s child is the most outrageous, and cruelest form of role playing.

To use children, is over the top, and should be stopped!

After these stories were reported, Instragram issued the following statement:

 “This type of content violates our terms. Once a parent or guardian reports it to us, we work quickly to remove it.”

Instagram and Twitter have tens of thousands of posts with hashtags such as -babyRP-(RP means role play) and – KidRP-, as well as others.

Instagram Ceo-Role playing-Digital Kidnapping
Kevin Systrom, cofounder and CEO of Instagram,

Unfortunately, it is more widespread than we like to think. No image is safe either.

Even sites that were created for children with disabilities, had pictures stolen and used. Parents who were already suffering with a handicapped child now endured exploitation as well.

The theft of pictures is what needs to be stopped.

Texas 2015

The daily mail reported in July of 2015, a story of a Texas woman. She reported her 4yr old child, was being displayed on Facebook by a man claiming it was his own daughter.

When she told Facebook about it, they said he did not violate any guidelines! Really?

Facebook requested the specific photos be identified by her and sent to them. The woman said she was now blocked by the man. Consequently, she was unable to obtain the photos.

Why are these social media sites protecting the guilty, and ignoring the victims?

Well, unfortunately it’s not really a crime to say you are related to someone, even if it’s all a lie. As long as they don’t try to commit fraud, or get abusive in some way, then it’s just considered as a form of story telling.

I still find it very disturbing that someone would create a life for themselves, using a strangers child.

Content Is Copyrighted

All the content you create is actually copyright protected, so it IS a violation to steal a picture. It is a copyright infringement. But, you did post the picture on a public site.

And you signed the rights to allow it to be available for others to view! If you don’t remember doing it, that’s because they are buried in those consent to use documents that everyone is required to “accept” to use the software.

The problem is the laws are not specific on this issue. Media sites are agreeing more readily to take these down if they get complaints. And they should, which is definitely a step in the right direction, anyway.

What Causes Digital Kidnapping

Psychologists say that a person does this because they are bored and want attention, or simply because they are jealous of what they see. Maybe they simply come from broken or abusive homes.

If they are alone, and see all this happiness, they want it also. So, they create their own life with some strangers photo’s. 

Kids are used to this role playing more than their parents are, because it has been a part of the digital age they grew up in as well. You can text people and say things you wouldn’t say in person. After all, aren’t we using a screen name on the computer?

Get a Life

Image of man with child -What is Digital Kidnaping

I can understand how this might happen, and feel sorry for people who don’t have their own life, and feel a need to create one. But, that doesn’t make it right.

Especially when they are causing somebody to feel as though they were violated.Their child’s life has been stolen, and it is being rewritten, without any known consent.

Some people have even reported that there daughter’s picture has been stolen and uploaded to an internet porn site in a foreign country. I can’t even imagine the nightmare of anguish that would cause in someones life.


I would think a watermark would help identify the photo, and enable it to be taken down sooner, and also clearly mark it as stolen. Better yet would have been better privacy settings and only sharing with family.

What if it was a friend you trusted who just did it for spite? I think we need to find a way to address the theft of the picture.

Linsey Paris, who runs her own blog reported on The Doctors TV that she had her son digitally kidnapped by a new blogger to her site.

The woman’s Facebook page displayed Linsey’s son on her Facebook timeline cover page. She went on to have a dialogue with her friends claiming it was her son.

There is a law in effect called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act that was amended effective on July 1, 2013. The rule added more protection to the privacy of children to read:

“The Rule requires certain Website operators to post privacy policies and provide notice, and to obtain verifiable parental consent, prior to collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under the age of 13″

You can go here to read the entire Federal Register of the rule change of -COPPA – the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 

Change Your Media Settings to Private

The fact is that these pictures have been displayed publicly. We all allow them to be viewed publicly. Therein lies the problem!

Unless you place restrictions on who views these pictures, everyone is viewing them! People are not thinking about all the things that could possibly happen! Also, they are not even aware of the settings to control privacy.

People need to understand the privacy settings of these social networks and really control who has access to these pictures. Facebook has added the scrapbook feature where you can keep your pictures private. Read more about Identity theft here. 

Use Privacy Apps and Watermarks Together

A privacy app, called “kids link” allows you to choose who actually views your pictures. Linsey mentions that she is now using that app.

It works by restricting the audience that is able to view the pictures you post. Only family and friends that are on a specific list that you create get to see the pictures.

Baby picture with a watermakr

It also removes all the metadata that could link the photographer to the picture, or reveal any location.

You can also use wartermarks to label those photos as your own

I have used watermark.ws to put my logo on this picture for a demonstration. You could use anything that you like.

The most important thing is the picture is not likely to be used. Put the mark where it will destroy the image if it is removed.

Here are several to use: Some are a free trial, others like ,watermark.ws is free for single use.



www.picmonkey.com/App is free. Another free app is:


Prevent Real Life Kidnapping

You have to be sure the photos you are posting, have no identifiable information or images. Look over the background of photos and make sure there is no identifiable landmarks that could be used to locate you, your child, or others.

Pictures cannot contain any school logos or uniforms that could put you in danger from the real kidnappers out there. Finding out where you live or what school your kids go to, could be all they need to track down your child.

Do not share embarrassing stories about your children that could cause internet blackmail or cyber-bullying, or be shared to others. Try to think about how you would have felt if your mother would have shared these pictures or stories.

Are We  Exposing Our Kids and Family For “Likes”

I personally think that part of this problem stems from the popularity contest and the desire of getting “likes”. Everybody wants to show everyone else how popular and likable they are.

However, even though it may be unwittingly, we are exposing “our family” and ourselves to digital kidnapping by others.

It is like a trophy to some to have more likes than anyone else. So, they post those cute pictures and don’t think about possible consequences. Once that photo is out there, it could end up anywhere.

Dating Sites Should Use Watermarks

Womans Image with Name Wartermarked for What is Digital Kidnapping

Dating sites are being used for this same deception. People use the sites to disguise who they really. You sign up expecting to meet someone.

However, you soon find out, that others are not who they say they are.

You aren’t totally sure, but you have your doubts and get the feeling that picture is not theirs.

People are stealing pictures and posting them as their own. They can hide their true identity and scam others to think the photo is really them.

You are encouraged to use a screen name to protect your true identity but, this also opens the door for fakes, and scams.

I often wondered if scammers were hiring models, and using their photos to open fake profiles.

So, it is not hard to imagine someone just stealing a photo and claiming to be that person.

People on Dating Sites Are Using Your Picture

People may be unaware their photos are being used. A friend or relative spots them, and asks if they are a member. Sometimes, photos of people who are members are used to open up a fake accounts under an assumed name.

The reason they don’t know about it is very simple. A guy looking for a girl, won’t see his (guy) picture being displayed to others under a fake name.

Dating sites have become aware of this danger and have changed their policy. If you suspect anything suspicious, you can report it and they will remove any accounts that appear to be fake.

But, it doesn’t help much. The faker can change the users name and steal another photo. Also, dating sites go beyond simple digital kidnapping and are seriously trying to scam people to send them money.

I think they should use watermarks with each persons hashtag name super imposed over the image. Watermarks would be placed automatically and would remain with the image.

This would render any cropping impossible without destroying the image. That simple change that would make dating sites much safer.

Where Do Victims Get Help

Victims can contact Instragram, Facebook, or other social media and report digital kidnapping.

Most social media will offer to take it down, and possibly close accounts.

Contact the user personally and ask them to take it down.

Place Watermarks Where They Destroy The Image If Removed

Use Watermarks on your photos. Identification would become much easier. Remember to use all watermarks in areas where they cannot be cropped or removed without destroying the picture.

Set every setting on personal scrapbook pages to private and monitor it as closely as you can. Beware of any new likes you get in public settings.

  • If someone has violated the COPPA laws with an underage child contact your local police or FBI 
  • Violations of COPPA – Contact the FTC

For More Guidelines on Internet Safety Visit

Family Online Safety Institute

Read more About Scams and Frauds Here

If you have any stories you would like to share, or comments on what you have read, please leave them below.


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10 thoughts on “What is Digital Kidnapping? Find Out Here”

  1. Indeed Digital kidnapping sounds horrible and it’s a crime that should be stopped. I’ve been hearing stories about it but haven’t seen in such a perspective as you have described it in this article. 

    It’s in human to create a profile using a stranger’s or a relative’s child photos without their consent and solicit money. My friend’s Facebook account was hacked recently and his photos were used to collect funds from well wishers who thought he was in real danger. 

    According to your research, if someone is caught with such a violation of human rights, can you recommend the case to be reported to the police and what does the international law say about it? 

    • Hi Pmbaluka,

      It is a concern and people need to be aware. A little common sense helps a lot. Keep photos private. It is the world we live in today. I agree with you, it should never happen. I hope they caught the lowlife’s and the money was returned!

      With the problems that Facebook has faced lately, I would call them or any other social site first. They are going to do something about it, because of the COPPA law and more privacy options have been added. If something has occurred breaking any laws, i would not hesitate to notify police, no matter where you are.

      The laws in Europe are more strict than U.S. law about the internet. In most cases if you use property that does not belong to you to make money, it is a criminal act and you can be sued. If you use an image/property of others and make claims it is yours, or use it in a manner that is considered a breech of privacy, you can also be sued.

      The laws are there, but not everyone has the resources to just take people to court. i hope that helps?

      Thanks for the great questions,


  2. As a grandmother raising her grandchild, I was so happy to come across your site. Most of the time, I never think twice about posting photos of my grandchild on places like Facebook. After reading your article, I am going to exercise a lot more caution if and when doing so. What is wrong with people?! I know you kind of answered the question, but even so…grrr… it just makes me mad that our kids and grandkids have to suffer!

    I had a very good friend who was scammed by a guy who was using a fake identity. She lost over $22,000 to the creep! They met on a dating site.

    I’m sharing your site with my friends!

    • Hi Karen,

      Thanks for the kind words and sharing my site, it is appreciated! Yes is it not a good idea to post pictures! Google says, if you keep it private, nobody but your friends and family sees them But what if they share it ? 

      it’s better not to do that, I know everybody does it! And you know first hand that there are bad guys out there.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing!


  3. It’s really a strange phenomena, hijacking someones image. 

    I just did a check and looked at what Google says if we check the pics in search. Nothing really.

    It would help if we could see the original source of an image in Google search.

    Having to watermark every pic we post in sozial media is in my opinion not realistic, too much work and can not be done spontaneously.

    One should make these social sites make the pics personalized, registered under whom posted them originally.

    Thanks for the reminder anyway 🙂

    • Hi Stefan,

      I am as amazed as you that people do this. Unfortunately it happens. From what I know about this, it is mostly from shared photos. We only get into trouble, when we share the photos. Because this makes them “public”. If we keep them private, then “suppossedly” they stay private. You can hide photos in google photos by using the “Archives” feature. it will remove photos from your main photo album.

      It sounds like that is a much better alternative, than public display!

      The only real problem is personal identification of kids mainly. They are the most vulnerable to being exploited. As adults we have the responsibility to protect them.

      That is a good idea about registering pics. They should also have some type of feature that doesn’t allow display without prior authorization.

      Great comments Stefan! 


  4. Oh my gosh, this is so frightening. I’ve been very selective about the photos I post of my baby girl online, but I’ll be even more selective now. I’ve heard of the porn thing. More so in the realm of when parents share naked baby photos. To parents, those are adorable pics. To people involved in child pornography, those photos take a much more sinister meaning. I only share intimate photos of my baby with close family. 

    Thanks for these app links. I have one but it only comes with so many free credits before requiring purchases.

    • Hi Nicole,

      It is scary! It is more about using common sense to prevent problems. Keep photos of kids private! I would even hesitate with those vacation pictures as well. 

      Here is a site that offers free watermarking. http://www.watermark.ws  it is free for “one at a time” pictures, or first 15 seconds of video. if you have a bunch or want more, cost $4.17(presently) a month. Not bad if you are watermarking a lot of photos or video’s 

      Thanks for stopping by with your great comments,


  5. Great reminders around picture safety. I worry about posting pictures of my kids on my site, but my site is baby related so it feels disingenuous if I don’t. I have never thought of using a watermark before, that’s brilliant! I’m definitely going to start doing that for my personal photos. Do you know if it’s possible that these digital kidnappers could photoshop the watermark out?

    • Hi Holly,

      Thank you for your kind words. Generally, I don’t do it. The watermark will help, but it is not foolproof. The average person will be deterred. However, to answer your great question, unfortunately, it is possible to remove the watermarks with Photoshop. I am not an expert, but doing that requires some time and most people wouldn’t bother. But the digital kidnappers just might!

      I say, just to be safe, don’t post your kids photos in any way, they can be used by the bad guys. Kids wearing costumes, things like that are better alternatives. 

      Having a site about kids, I would say, try using generic photos or child models, and public photo’s? Just my thoughts. It is a different world today!

      Thanks for stopping by!



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