More than 40 percent of American kids under the age of eight years old now have their own tablet, while 95 percent of teens age 13-17 have access to a smartphone. Add those numbers to the 97 percent of adults between the ages of 30-49 years old who consistently use the internet, and that equals a whole lot of screen time going on in your home.
It also equals a whole lot of online exposure. Now more than ever, it is imperative for families to understand the importance of online safety. Here are the top three steps and defense strategies families can take to protect themselves against identity theft and ensure that the whole family is safe online.
Step #1: Define child identity theft dangers
It’s not unusual for children to fall victim to identity theft. In fact, children and seniors are the top two demographics at risk and reports of identity theft have been cited where the victims were just a few months old. What’s worse is that the stolen identity of a child may not be recognized until years later when it’s more difficult to remedy. Thinking that being a minor means they have nothing to risk, children may disclose sensitive information online, or cyberthieves may fool a child into giving out his or her birthday, address, Social Security number and other vital information. For example, your child may try to buy Fortnite V-bucks from an unsafe website and accidentally expose your credit card number online. Just one mistake can allow scammers to commit identity theft.
Defense Strategy: To avoid such hazards, first, talk to your kids. Remind them that revealing too much information about themselves online has consequences, even for children. Define what constitutes personal information and explain why they should not share it.
Though educating your child helps, to ensure complete protection, it is prudent to also invest in a service that monitors your accounts and intervenes as soon as dangerous activity is detected. Innovative services like LifeLock offer those services and specifically offer child identity theft protection.
Step #2: Emphasize privacy
Data brokers, which are companies that buy your personal information from third-parties like websites, stores, and apps, spent more than $19 billion acquiring data about your spending, traveling, and browsing history in 2018, according to IAB’s Data Center of Excellence. With more and more third-party groups collecting information online and using it for their own marketing purposes, or just selling it to the highest bidder, you have to make sure your family understands the value of your online privacy. Though some apps post privacy policies that detail the apps’ intent to collect and share user information, many kids and adults alike are prone to accepting these policies without even glancing at them.
Defense Strategy: With most third parties, there’s an exchange or trade off. You give them some of your data and then they give you a free insurance quote, $5 gift card, or a free pair of sunglasses. Considering the amount of spam and phone calls you are about to receive, does that seem like a fair trade? It’s important to emphasize to children that nothing is ever completely free, no matter what the ad says. That website may tell your daughter she’ll get a free Play-Doh slime for filling out a survey, but you’ll certainly pay something as soon as she inputs your phone number.
Step #3: Avoid non-private
Just like how nothing is ever completely free, remember that nothing is ever completely private, either. Even browsers that claim to be private are still vulnerable to parties such as website administrators, law enforcement, and hackers. And public Wi-Fi is like a cyberthief’s all-you-can-eat buffet.
Defense Strategy: When talking with your kids, stress how important it is to avoid using public Wi-Fi networks. If they are out with their friends at the mall or a cafe when the urge to Candy Crush strikes, let your kids know that they need to think twice before connecting to the free Wi-Fi. A virtual private network is the solution here. A secure VPN encrypts the data moving to and from your device and the connected server. If public Wi-Fi is a must, then so is a VPN.
It’s sad that in this crazy, virtual, modern world, even children have to worry about identity theft, but that doesn’t mean you are helpless to protect your family. By knowing the dangers of identity theft (especially for kids), emphasizing the importance of privacy, and by avoiding that which is non-private, you and your family can enjoy your time online safely.