Your teens love their Facebook friends and their MySpace pages and whatever other social networks they've joined. And while once upon a time the fear was that someone would physically hurt them based on an online relationship, now there's a new threat: online identity theft. Is social networking safe?
Identity theft is a serious crime that can wreak havoc on your credit score -- and thus, almost every part of your life. But if you're a teenager who doesn't have a credit card and whose cell phone is under Mom and Dad's account, you might not even realize that your identity has been stolen.
You'd just go on about your life, and then one day, you'd apply for your first credit card or school loan -- or fill out a job application -- and suddenly find out that you're a terrible credit risk, not someone employers want to hire, not someone who can get money for school.
The little details teens share on their social networking profiles are the nuggets of information an identity thief can quickly grab and use. But you can help your kids with some relatively simple tips that let them have their online fun without waving a welcome sign to crooks.
- What's in a name? For an identity thief, plenty. So encourage your kids to post with a nickname, a different spelling, or a first name only. Keep the legal name for legal documents.
- So you say it's your birthday! Tell teens not to post their full birthdate online. Month and day is fine, but leave the year off -- and don't pose your age in another part of the profile. You need to enter a DOB? Pick a new one. Your real friends will know the difference.
- Hey, stranger. Ask your teen if she'd feel comfortable handing out her address to random people on the street. So why give it out online? At most, go with city and state -- but maybe aim for the nearest large city.
- Smile for the camera. Of course your teen wants to post photos in her online profile. And that's fine, but teach her to be smart about the pictures she chooses. Avoid work or school uniforms that give away information. Close up shots of faces or group shots of kids are great.
- Call me! It's not a good idea to give out a phone number online. Make it a rule in your house, and let your kids know that cell phone and Internet privileges will be revoked if they don't comply.
You don't have to shut down your teen's social network. Following these tips can keep her identity safe, and you can rest easy. For a few minutes, at least.
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