-- intro: Whether you’re scanning the surf to protect your little ones from a rogue jellyfish, lazing at home on a stay-cation or carting kids to camp, you’re probably already thinking about your back-to-school to-do lists.
While you’re out there searching for the perfect backpack for your child, the more important consideration than style, size and color should be – what can happen if a dishonest person gets a hold of it? The things your child carries in his or her rucksack can become weapons of your financial destruction if they fall into the wrong hands.
With identity-related crimes at historic levels, the odds are better than ever that a dishonest person will know the basics of taking advantage of the kinds of personally identifiable information, sensitive data (like passwords and credit card numbers) and the many other keys to your household economy that often lurk in your child’s backpack.
Here’s a shortlist of what a relatively creative bad guy might find in your child’s backpack, and what you can do to keep anything bad from happening.
quicklist: title: A Smartphone text: While obvious to you (hopefully), does your child understand the serious potential for disaster that a walkabout smartphone can bring to your doorstep?
It can be simple as a scammer dialing 611 and ordering new services. Chances are good that there’s enough information in your child’s backpack for a motivated thief to get your name and thus the keys to your telephonic kingdom.
But there are other identity indignities that can be done. Many people store user name and password information on the Notes app of their phones. The Notes may contain other informational cracks and crevasses as well and open up unsuspecting third parties—relatives and friends—to scams. Email scams, grandparent scams, a just-to-be-a-jerk iTunes or apps shopping spree, malware installation—so many tasty tidbits to exploit.
What to do: Talk to your kids about the dangers of an unsecured phone and discuss basic data hygiene with them—like what information shouldn’t be on their phones. Have them set strong (think creatively alpha-numeric) passwords, and a Find Me app to erase the contents should the device fall into the wrong hands.
quicklist: title: Their Laptop text: You don’t need to be a movie buff to know that a computer is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Most issues associated with a lost phone come to bear here as well. Emails can be sent to relatives or strangers in the service of sucking up money or wreaking havoc. Beyond the irresistible cornucopia of files that may well be saved on the device, email is a treasure trove of personally identifiable information—everything from credit card numbers to more digestible data tidbits like name, address, email address and birthdays—pieces of a puzzle that can be assembled to present a believable story to an unwitting customer service representative and then steal valuable goods and services or used as a fly trap to accumulate even more PII.
Does your child have access to your Netflix account? How about Amazon or iTunes? Where else have they gone in cyberspace that might have their information—or yours? Open social media sites that are set to login automatically afford a wide vista of scamming opportunities to a bad guy.
What to do: Make sure your child gets into the habit of logging out of all their online accounts, and that they don’t store sensitive information on their laptops. Talk to them about the wisdom of not saving user ID and password information (I know, I know, it’s just so darn inefficient to demand security over convenience), and how to make a good one.
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Finally, have your child set a password—shared with you—to protect their device against the wrong person accessing it.
quicklist: title: Keys & Name Tags text: So, this is pretty straightforward: If your child uses a karabiner to attach his or her keys to their backpack, you’ve got a robbery waiting to happen. Backpacks don’t have to have a name-tag with your child’s address and your home phone number to lead a thief to your home. Better to put your office number.
Additionally, there are apps like KeyMe, that allow a fraudster (as well as a person who might want to use the app to avoid unnecessary inconvenience) to make a copy of a key that any locksmith can duplicate.
What to do: Tell your child to keep the keys to your home in their pocket rather than on their back.
quicklist: title: Gaming Device text: PlayStation Vita is a popular gaming device—and not the only device that could cause you a world of woe should it fall into the wrong hands—but we’ll single it out for the sake of illustration.
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The good news: Your personally identifiable information is safe even if someone grabs the device, because it’s password-protected and associated with your little gamer’s access to the network.
That doesn’t mean that a bad player can’t do some damage. First, and perhaps most terrifying, they can play games and wreck your kid’s sterling reputation in the community. Worse: Whoever has that device can buy games and run up a hefty bill. One-click purchased games are something any malicious third party can rack up in the way of a very expensive just-because crime. (I know, unthinkable among school-aged children.)
What to do: Have your child set a passcode for access to the device and make sure they share it with you.
More From Credit.com: How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
When it comes to data security best practices are universal. It’s your job to pass on what your kids need to know to stay safe and keep your family out of the cross-hairs in a new data landscape where “getting got” is the third certainty in life. Basic data hygiene is a must. Until our education system catches up with the realities of today’s data-insecure world and best data practices are taught as part of home economics, it’s something we all must do to keep our home sweet home safe.
Adam Levin is chairman and co-founder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.