They're free -- and they're dangerous.

They're free -- and they're dangerous.

Several popular applications for smartphones expose children to greater risk of falling victim to online sexual predators, according to two members of the Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Speaking before a group of Block Watch coordinators in the Northland area last week, detective Zane Kirby of the Columbus Division of Police and Special Agent Cameron Bryant of Homeland Security expressed disdain for these free programs that could end up harming a child.

Among the apps causing complaints in the law enforcement community are MeetMe, Skout, Kik and Snapchat.

MeetMe, according to Google Play, "shows you who's nearby and ready to chat."

Skout is "the global network for meeting people," according to iTunes. "Instantly meet people near you or around the world. Discover new friends at a local bar or in Barcelona."

The problem with both of these applications is that geo-locating features permit predators to pinpoint where their potential victims are, the task force members said.

Kik is a texting application that's crafted to defeat forensic techniques. Because it's based in Canada, it puts records beyond the reach of subpoenas issued in this country.

"We can't find out who sent it or anything," Bryant said.

Snapchat is an application for sharing photos and videos, but only for a brief time. Senders can choose how long a photo or video can be viewed by the recipient before it disappears.

However, Bryant said, other software can capture these supposedly fleeting images.

Sexual predators often use compromising photos to blackmail their victims, the task force members said.