DETECTIVES are investigating claims that a man is using social media to ‘groom’ teenage schoolgirls in Belfast by offering bogus modelling work.
The PSNI has confirmed that public protection officers were aware of the allegations about a man calling himself ‘Tom Edwards’.
Officers had also been in touch with a number of schools in the Belfast area about the incident and inquiries were continuing.
One school, Bloomfield Collegiate in east Belfast, has already sent a warning to pupils and parents about the contact from the man on popular site Facebook.
It is understood that during Facebook chats with girls he was trying to ‘groom’, ‘Tom Edwards’ asked them to set up a Skype account for face-to-face conversations.
Security sources familiar with ‘grooming’ cases said the use of Skype was a “classic” operation used by sexual predators.
“First they get to know them on Facebook with friendly conversations. Then they go to the next level by wanting face-to-face chats by Android phone or through Skype,” a security source told Belfast Daily.
“Parents need to be vigilant to what their children are accessing or chatting with on Facebook.
“It is a hunting ground for those trying to ‘groom’ teenage girls.
“In this case, the school has been right to alert both parents and pupils to this man and his activities.”
As part of its warning, Bloomfield Collegiate has asked pupils to block any friend request from the man.
They have also been instructed to delete any online relationship they have established with him on Facebook.
In a notice posted on its website, the school’s vice-principal told parents that an unknown man has approached pupils asking them to “become involved in paid modelling work.”
The letter, obtained by Belfast Daily, states: “We have received information about a “Tom Edwards”, who is approaching young people via their Facebook page requesting to be a friend.
“A number have accepted. He then requests that the pupils become involved in paid modelling work and is insistent that they set up a Skype account.
“A modelling session in the King’s Hall is also mentioned. We have warned our pupils of the need to exercise caution when accepting friendship requests and are strongly advising any pupil who has accepted “Tom Edwards” as a friend to block him and eliminate any relationship previously created.
“As an additional precaution, we would ask that you discuss this with your daughter to ensure that such a friendship request has not been accepted. Your continued support in maintaining your daughter’s online safety is appreciated.” Signed Dr L Finch, vice principal.