-- intro: Last month a story in the Wall Street Journal article sent a shudder down our collective parental spine. Google is planning to open Gmail and YouTube to kids under the age of 13. While the company will restrict this king’s ransom of new clicks to kid-friendly content, hackers could well have a field day.
Lest we forget, we’re only as strong as the weakest link in our familial tech village. The trend—whether or not Google opens the door to kids—is for the wee ones among us to be in contact with the outside world in a cyber way without much supervision. Munchkins, no matter how smart, can have little or no real understanding of the threats that abound.
Of all the ways that kids can run into trouble online, on their smartphones and in their gaming adventures, malware is a big concern. The malicious code children collect on their way to something you’ve never heard of can hijack your computer for all kinds of purposes. There are click-harvesting scams. There are stealth programs that will turn your machine into a spambot. There’s malware that looks OK to your anti-virus program, but is actually recording every keystroke, most particularly when you log into your bank account.
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Obviously the safest thing you can do is to keep your kids offline, but the likelihood of that ranks right up there with achieving universal peace. So the next best thing is to advise them on best cyber practices and good luck on that. You can counsel children not to click on suspicious emails and weird-looking websites, but they may not always be able to resist the ones that tout their most dire enthusiasms, and that’s where you’re most likely to get got.
When it comes to the other obsessions common among today’s children, you are looking at a Gatling gun of scams that could get you.
quicklist: title: Celebrity-Worshippingtext:
Today’s fan activity, whether for Justin Bieber or authors like John Green or the latest hot YouTuber, make an early Beatles concert seem like a night at the opera.
Few kids can be accused of circumspection, and add a teen or tween idol to the mix and you can forget anything resembling common sense. Children don’t care if they’re cyber surfing on their computer or yours. Hence, their fan-fired Internet behavior becomes yours, and doubtless if there’s something “new” or “rad” about the object of their obsession, they will click—and you will pay.
Consider at the very least setting up a separate user on your machines so that your post-childbot Internet experience is not flooded with advertisements for the likes of Ansel Elgort and Everquest.
quicklist: title: Gamingtext: Who among the gamers in your life doesn’t want extras and access to areas hitherto unexplored? Well, as this recent scam targeting user credentials shows, scammers know that all too well.
As with all things exciting and OMG-ish online, if you’re not sure about an offer, check it out on an official website. The extra time you spend doing due diligence pre-click could well save you a tremendous amount of time and anguish post-click.
quicklist: title: Insta-scam?text:
Tens of millions of teens are obsessed with Instagram, and, make no mistake, they aren’t just looking at the pictures their friends post. There are legions of fan accounts, celebrity accounts, spoofed celebrity accounts and off-color humor accounts (that you don’t know about and would prefer not to know about). Like the hidden dangers that lurk in the fine print, the scams are in the comments. Want to make $200? Well, Insta-scammers want to show you how. Never mind that their tactics are illegal, and are a fast track to stolen funds, not quick cash.
As with all kid-based activity online—or, in fact, all online behavior—it’s more important than ever to monitor what you and your children click, and give great thought to the kinds of behavior that can (and will) get the whole family in trouble.
Malware comes in all shapes and sizes, including programs that will track your keystrokes so they can access your financial accounts and personal information to steal your identity. Since you sometimes won’t know you’ve been hit with identity theft – whether by hacking or any other means – until it’s too late, vigilance is key to protecting yourself. That means checking your bank and credit statements regularly for transactions that aren’t yours – and reporting them ASAP to your financial institution. Check your credit reports several times a year for signs of fraud (new accounts or old debts that you don’t recognize).
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You can get your credit reports for free once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Monitoring your credit scores can alert you to possible identity theft if you see a big, unexpected change.
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.