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How your kids are exposing you to identity theft

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Lock up your cyberspace

In today's world, an impeccable identity is your lifeline to a good career, fair mortgage and reasonable lending options. Don't let your curious teenager accidentally put your identity at risk with unwise choices on the internet.

Cyber security | Sheknows.com

Whether it's good or bad, kids spend a large chunk of time online every day. According to 2010's Norton Online Family Report, children around the world spend an average of 11.4 hours per week on the internet. They spend this time on social media, doing homework, surfing their favorite websites and sometimes getting into trouble. Parents usually try to prevent negative online experiences for their children by setting parental controls and monitoring cyberbullying. But what if your child's online behaviors are actually putting you and your identity at risk?

What is identity theft?

The United States Department of Justice defines identity theft as "all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception, usually for economic gain." A thief will use his victim's Social Security number, bank account number, telephone number or other unique identifying information to withdraw funds from bank accounts or even take out loans in the victim's name. The crime can go unnoticed for weeks or months — until the victim notices something is amiss in an account or credit report.

Unfortunately, no one is immune from crafty identity thieves. A clever thief can adeptly overhear conversations, go through your trash or intercept your mail to commit crimes. But with the proliferation of the internet, the World Wide Web has become the ideal avenue for identity theft. And as darling as your child is, he or she is probably not savvy about identity protection, which can put the whole family at risk for victimization.

Your child's online behavior and risks

Children are vulnerable to cybercrime for the same reasons they're vulnerable to other types of crime. Most children are fairly naive about predatory behavior and likely haven't thought through the negative consequences of giving trust to people who haven't earned it. Here are some of the ways your child is vulnerable to cybercrime, which in turn can lead to cybercrime being committed against you and the entire family.

  • Downloading games without supervision. Many children see fun "free" games on the internet and instantly download them without a parent's permission. These games can contain spyware, which may remain on your computer undetected, leaving you vulnerable to identity theft the next time you provide identifying information on your computer.
  • Responding to phishing emails. A phishing email is sent from identity thieves who pose as a legitimate company but often wrangle email recipients into providing personal identifying information in response to a prompt. Children are especially prone to respond to these fraudulent emails with personal information.
  • Accepting friend requests from strangers. Even if a child has strict privacy settings on his or her social media account, all of that caution is ruined by accepting a friend request from a suspicious stranger. Once a stranger becomes a "friend" on Facebook, that stranger will have access to your child's information — including home address, home phone and possibly even family birth dates.
  • Downloading viruses or malware. According to the Norton Online Report, nearly two-thirds of children surveyed had accidentally downloaded a virus or malware by clicking on questionable content or opening a suspicious email. Viruses and malware can get into your computer and send your personal information to thieves.
  • Failing to update passwords. Many children have secured their email or social media accounts with simple passwords, like the name of a puppy or a best friend. If your child doesn't update his or her passwords regularly, a thief can access email accounts and any personal information that was sent on that account.

In other words, just because your child may not use your credit card online, he or she may still put you at risk for identity theft. Make sure you educate your child about password protection and approach all information sharing with great caution. Also, make sure your virus and malware software protection is up to date to reduce the risk of identity theft in case your kid accidentally downloads questionable content.

Tell us:

Has identity theft ever hurt your family?

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