We all know that keeping our identity cards, financial information and personal details like where we live, where we work and who our contacts and family members are important. Having these details available online immediately puts us at risk of fraud, impersonation and criminal aggression.
Whist we might be careful about our own identities, we often overlook the information which our children might have online and which might expose them to danger.
The Serious Risks of Identity Theft
When a child’s identity and personal details are stolen, many things can happen. Some involve impersonation and use of your child’s identity to access information; others are more sinister and may involve stalking and child endangerment.
This occurs when your child’s log-in to various websites, pictures and personal details are collected and used by someone else. In this case, the cyber-criminal might use and doctor images of your child inappropriately and sell them or even pretend those are images of themselves. Log-ins can be used to go onto forums and public spaces to espouse views and comment on issues which you and your child would never want to be affiliated with.
Abuse of Credit
This is a huge issue and gets worse as your children reach their teenage years and begins to be able to have a credit rating and to open their own bank accounts. In this case, their identity card, images of their IC, bank account numbers, internet passwords and even ATM cards may be stolen and used to establish a credit history for someone else. Abuse in this case may involve anything from using their identity to borrow money from loan sharks, to having money lenders illegally deposit money into their accounts and then rack up large interest bills from them, to having their names used as guarantors for investments. You and your children may not be aware of the financial misuse of your children’s identities until years later.
Stalking and Endangerment
This is the one which is every parent’s nightmare. When cyber-criminals manage to get hold of details such as your children’s names, addresses and phone numbers and then begin a gradual approach of grooming or stalking them. Children may not be aware of the implications of speaking to strangers on the internet. The new “friend” they meet on a website may have stolen another identity and is pretending to be a child of the same age, or someone who goes to their school. Your children may unwittingly end up bringing a virtual criminal right into your physical home. The only outcome for this scenario would be child endangerment.
7 Steps to Protecting Your Child
It’s never too early to begin talking to your children about the dangers of identity theft on the internet. In addition to educating your child, take active steps to reduce your children’s profile online.
1. Keep Documents in a Safe Place
Keep important documents such as passports and birth certificates in a safe place. Either in a locked safe at home or perhaps even in your safe deposit box at your bank. Explain how important their student cards and identity cards are to your children and teach them to always keep them safe and not to allow strangers to make photocopies, borrow or use their identification cards.
2. Don’t Share if You Don’t Have To
Many organisations will ask for your IC for marketing or documentation purposes. Try not to allow them to have access to your children’s IC numbers if possible. If they must have them, ask them how it will be used and how the information will be stored. Think about how credible the organisation which is asking for this information is before you decide to share this information.
3. Recognise Social Engineering and Phishing Techniques
Teach your children to recognise phishing and other techniques which cyber criminals will often use to get their profiles and passwords. Tell them how to look at the website addresses of the requesting organisations. Tell them to alert you to any unsolicited emails which show up asking them to log in again, confirm their passwords or reset their passwords and tell them not to do so until you have checked the email to confirm if it is a genuine request.
Don’t allow your children to have social media accounts until they are much older. Social media is a goldmine which fraudsters often look into for details such as age, pictures, addresses, friends, likes and dislikes of your children. The less of a social media profile your kids have, the safer they are.
4. Teach Your Children about Passwords
Explain how passwords work to your children and how hackers often use sophisticated algorithms to try to crack them. A good password should not be related to any of your personal information such as your names, your address or your phone numbers. Try to create a password with a mixture of symbols, letters and numbers. Teach your kids to change their passwords regularly.
5. Manage Privacy Settings
Look through all the details of your own social media and related accounts as well as your children’s accounts. Make sure all the settings are on private, that nothing is shared beyond family circles. Do not include the names and accounts of your children in your own circles and settings in case your account is compromised.
6. Maintain Computer Virus and Defense Software
Keep your computer anti-virus software up to date. It is the first step to preventing people from getting access into your personal data. Avoid going online and completing sensitive transactions over open and public networks. Teach your children to avoid this too. This applies not only to computer transactions, but also mobile ones.
7. Avoid Putting Your Children’s Pictures Online
There are plenty of reasons to avoid not putting your children’s pictures online. However, with Geo-coding features now widely available, this can also open the door to letting people know the approximate location of where you and your kids live. This can happen even if you don’t list your addresses anywhere public.