RALEIGH — Police say hundreds if not thousands of kids are participating in a dangerous activity without their parents' knowledge. Telephone chat lines have regained popularity, and kids are the ones dialing up.
The danger may not be in talking, but in meeting the person on the other end of the line.
Cherrie Vinson said she was "worried sick" when she discovered that her 14-year-old daughter Erica was missing.
Erica was found three days later in a hotel with a 22-year-old man she met on a chat line.
"We started smoking [marijuana] and I got woozy," Erica said. "I got high and then after awhile I blacked out, and that's all I remember."
Vinson says she had no idea her daughter was calling a chat line. She had never even heard of them.
"I think somebody needs to get to the bottom of it and have it banned," she said. "It should be illegal."
The chat line says you have to be at least 18 to call, but participants on a local chat line said they knew kids were dialing up.
Workers say they would not be surprised to find out there are teenagers calling them. One worker heard of someone who was 11 years old calling.
The reason Erica's parents and many others may not know about the chat lines is because the calls are free.
Instead of 900 numbers that can be blocked, the new chat lines are local or 800 numbers.
Callers are only charged if they pay for a mailbox, but police say the same rules apply for chat lines as chat rooms on the Internet.
"Don't give out personal information, don't even use a real name," says John Goad with the N.C. Center for Missing Persons. "If you want, use a pseudonym, a nickname, initials or whatever, because you don't know the person you're talking to."
It is advice that Erica found out too late. When asked if she would call the chat line again, she said "No, because it got me in some serious stuff."
Police say chat lines can be more dangerous than online chat rooms because a voice can be more convincing than words on a screen.
Erica's mother filed a police report against the 22-year-old her daughter was found with.