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In Virginia, the murder of a 13-year-old girl last month is being linked to Kik, the messaging app used by millions of teens.“There’s a grooming process. “When it comes to criminal activity, a smartphone can be as dangerous as a gun.”Pritchett continued to prey on young girls, even though Erie County prosecutors had a case against him in July 2014, court papers allege. “It seems someone should have taken him off the street before now.”That is when the federal prosecutor explained that the initial charges against Pritchett were state court charges, and the Erie County district attorney was responsible to prosecute once he made bail.

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Robert Pritchett liked to hide behind aliases such as Jason and Jess when he searched for underage girls, federal agents say.

And when he connected with one, it was usually through meetme.com, Kik or another video chat and messaging site popular with teens, they say. Charged with raping a 15-year-old girl, Pritchett made bail and remained free until his arrest this month on separate federal charges.

The FBI now believes the 20-year-old Buffalo man used those social media forums and secret identities to lure girls into sending him nude photos of themselves and forcing other girls into prostitution.“We call it ‘sextortion,’ and the criminals who engage in it are opportunistic. They engage in role playing,” said Jeremy Bell, supervisory special agent of the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force in Buffalo. During the time he was free, he sexually assaulted another girl, a 17-year-old from New Jersey, agents said.

Pritchett was arrested earlier this month on child pornography and sex-trafficking charges in what prosecutors are calling the latest warning about the dangerous relationship of teens, social media and sexual predators. They get the photos and then they blackmail,” Bell said of the predators patrolling the Web. He also is charged with forcing the girl into prostitution.“Someone dropped the ball,” Mc Carthy said in federal court.

When asked if the original misdemeanor charges could have led to a sentence that kept Pritchett off the streets, Flaherty said he could not comment.“There was no guarantee” of jail time, one law enforcement source said.

Kik is a popular teen messaging app used by 40 percent of teens in the United States.Its website touts a community of 275 million users from 230 countries around the world.It was founded in 2009 by a group of University of Waterloo students.Kik allows users to message one another for free via user names.Technology makes it easier for you to communicate with people you don’t know, and with that comes risks, said one University at Buffalo professor.“Kik affords anonymity,” said Michael Stefanone, associate professor in UB’s Department of Communication.“Facebook is tied in to your life, so we are more cautious and strategic and careful. You will often take more chance and engage in more risky behavior.”The 13-year-old Virginia girl, Nicole Lovell, was kidnapped and killed by an 18-year-old college student she met on Kik. “Our cases and what’s happening around the country should serve as a reminder to parents.”The Pritchett prosecution and two others are evidence of the dangerous environment facing kids today, Hochul said, an environment created by a combination of unsuspecting teenagers, the ever-growing presence of social media and savvy predators schooled in technology.

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