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They take your child's photo and pretend it's their own.

It is scary and disturbing and could happen to you.

It’s a disturbing new trend, and one that could be affecting your family without you even knowing.

Digital kidnapping.

Strangers stealing your child’s photo and using them as their own.

And the methods in which they re-use the pics come in all forms and sizes. Some use the child’s photo in role-playing games. Others creepily pretend these photos are pictures of their own children, and in the worst-case scenario they are used for fetishes or fantasies.

This increasing trend is one that has social media users and technology experts concerned.

One mother has spoken out about her experience as a warning to others. Blogger Lindsay Paris has written of how her son was only 18-months old when she found his photo on a stranger’s Facebook page.

She wrote that she flew into a rage seeing her baby posed as someone else’s son. The woman had even written that the baby was “her child, isn’t he so cute?”

Paris, who writes Redhead Baby Mama says as at the time, two years ago, she had no official channels to go through, she contacted the woman who had posted the picture and requested it be removed.

Lindsay Paris had her son's image stolen by a young woman.

The woman complied.

Paris writes, “It was difficult, as she was very young, spoke no English, and had no idea she was doing anything wrong. I was lucky. She took down the photos and we were able to carry on with no real damage done.”

She isn’t alone. Other bloggers have written of similar occurrences.

One mother told Yahoo Parenting that she found a Facebook  photo she had taken of her two daughters had been shared by a man in China.

“The page was in Chinese” the mother, Ashley told Yahoo, “and I couldn’t read any of it but I saw that he had a few thousand followers and he had shared my picture. I started scrolling and noticed he had lot of pictures of little girls. I was so scared and shocked. I mean, that share linked back to my personal page so anybody could have clicked on it to see where I lived.”

Ashley immediately deleted the post, went into her privacy settings and locked them down.

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The young girl used in this image is not aware her photo has been stolen.

More disturbingly some parents are finding images of their children being used in photo sharing sites for role-playing games. The bizarre trend sees users adopt an identity of a baby or child and “act” out their life.

Just spending a few minutes immersed in this online world is disturbing. Twitter accounts and Facebook pages of glowing smiling children, of newborn babies, of pre-teens all being used without their knowledge, in a twisted world.

Crimefeed.com writes that “in some more curious incidents, people have posed as virtual adoption agencies, where users can request a specific look of child, and the user then goes out and steals that image for the requestor to use.”

Virtual adoption agencies use images of real children.

The new parent then virtually feeds, clothes and nurtures the pretend child - all in an online forum, like Facebook.  But who are the users?

Well according to Fast Company the thieves are usually teenage girls acting out online fantasies. Psychiatrist Gail Saltz told Fast Company, “The idea that an adolescent can create an identity online and take advantage of that anonymity does not surprise me. It’s more exciting to be testing these fantasies online and not in their minds because there’s some follow through online and yet they’re behind the safety of their computer in their bedroom. This is another variation of that. “

But for the parents whose babies or children have been used in these strange online worlds its not a fantasy - it feels like a crime, a betrayal, but unfortunately there is no way to prosecute.

Twitter account "advertise" babies for adoption.

A mother called Jenny told Fast Company after her son’s image was stolen she now re-evaluates how she uses her online presence.

“I was focused on sharing my story as part of a community with parents of preemies and infertility survivors," Jenny says. "I thought I was doing something good. It turns out I was putting my kids out there in a negative fashion. I still can’t even wrap my head around it."

So what can you do about it?

Make sure your social media settings are at the highest privacy levels possible.

If you see an image you feel is being used inappropriately – report it both Facebook and Instagram say it violates their terms of service agreements, and say they will take action.

Use apps such as KidsLink - a privacy app where you only share photos with the friends and family who you’ve approved to view the images and who also belong to their network.

If you are concerned do a reverse google image research to see where your image has been used, go to Google image search, upload your photo and it will look for places the pic has been used.

Are you concerned about digital kidnapping? How do you protect your children online?

Want more? Try:

A website is selling image of your child online and it is legal. 

How to keep your kids safe online.

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