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Experts warn parents: Minors have been selling illicit content on social media

DETROIT – Teenagers are selling naked pictures of themselves on social media platforms that some parents don't know exist.

The Local 4 Defenders have learned young people are sharing explicit photos and content for cash, making hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of dollars a month. Most parents have no idea because they have to be invited to see this kind of content. It's one of the latest ways people are making money off social media. Insiders have told Local 4 that many are doing it to help pay for college. 

The problem is some of those posting and selling explicit content are minors.

"In the Snapchat program itself, it's called a custom," said Scott Bailey, with N1 Discovery. "In the real world, it's either referred to as a private Snapchat or a premium Snapchat account."

Bailey is a digital forensic expert who monitors trends and troubles and this one keeps popping up.

If you follow someone on Snapchat, you can see what they post. Some users are creating custom boards on Snapchat that users must be invited in order to to see what has been posted. If you aren't invited, you don't even see what happens on the account.

Bailey's team at N1 Discovery did some research and found one young woman posting on Snapchat an offer of 90 pictures and 30 videos for a $20 Amazon gift card. Bailey said most content creators ask to be paid with Amazon gift cards or through mobile payment apps like Venmo or PayPal. 

"Anyone can set up a Vemo account," Bailey said. "You don't need to have a bank account. You don't need to have a credit card."

Many users promote their premium Snapchat accounts through other social media sites like Twitter or Tumblr. 

"It's like a classified ad," Bailey said. "You can scroll though it and there will be different people offering different things."

Insiders told Local 4 minors are involved, creating content. Some content creators have told Local 4 they've quit their jobs to focus on their Snapchat accounts, going from a a job where they make $13 an hour to $130 an hour -- and the parents have no idea. 

What can a parent do? You can check your children's Snapchat score -- fairly active users average score is about 60,000, but those that sell premium services have numbers over a million. However, having a high Snapchat score doesn't mean they are doing anything illicit. 

Parents who have control over what apps are downloaded on their children's phones can block Snapchat, but experts claim there is not much parents can do outside of encouraging conversations and discussing the dangers it presents.