For the Young and the Wireless, Connecting Can Lead to Calamity

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Remember the days when your family had one computer and you limited your children’s time online? Or how relieved you were when your kids were at home because then you could keep an eye on them? Well, thanks to the Mobile Internet, that’s all history.

Close to 100% of U.S. teens go online – and the majority use wireless devices to do it. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 75% of twelve to seventeen year olds have cell phones. When you add free public wifi access points at parks, libraries, cafes and entire cities to the equation, parental controls go out the window.

The truth is most parents just aren’t monitoring their children’s laptop usage or using parental controls on their home computers. According to a Pew study, 70% of U.S. teens are accidentally exposed to pornography on the Internet. Do you know where your kids are online?

Hotspot Decoys Spell Trouble

Teens love to hang out at wifi hotspots; and so do hackers. They’re setting up fake wifi networks called Evil Twins close to real wifi hotspots. Once laptop users log on to them, their sensitive information – user names, passwords and credit card numbers – falls into hackers’ hands. From there, hackers can launch man-in-the-middle attacks, tricking users into signing on to bogus web pages and installing malware that records their keystrokes.

Teens Overshare on Social Networking Sites

According to “Secret Life of Teens,”a 2010 McAfee survey conducted by Harris Interactive, teens are posting more personal information than they should on social networking sites. Sixty-nine percent of thirteen to seventeen year olds have included their physical location while 24% have provided their email address. Kids think they’re anonymous on the web. But often, the only people who are anonymous are online predators who use aliases and fake pictures to conceal their identity.

Social networking sites are also a favorite target for hackers. In a 2010 survey of 1000 New York City teenagers by Tufin Technologies, 50% of the kids interviewed said their Facebook or email account had been hacked. Between 2008 and 2009, phishing – trying to acquire personal information to use for identity theft – increased 240% on social networking sites.

Kids Make Perfect Identity Theft Victims

Identity thieves are on the lookout for children’s dormant Social Security numbers because their credit is generally untarnished. Often, it’s not until teens apply for credit, a college loan or a job that they find out their credit has been destroyed.

In 2010, federal authorities warned that some shady online companies are using computers to locate and sell Social Security numbers issued to children. They’re skirting the law by calling the numbers CPNs – for credit profile, credit protection or credit privacy numbers. The buyers – people with a bad credit rating trying to recreate their credit profile to buy a house.

What You Can Do

  • Keep your computer firewall turned on and your virus protection software up to date.
  • Don’t give out personal information online that could be used by  cybercriminals to contact you, find you or steal your identity.
  • Don’t click on links or open emails from unknown senders. That could lead to malware being installed on your computer.
  • Don’t expose sensitive information like your credit card numbers and passwords when using public wifi hotspots. That could lead to identity theft and credit fraud.
  • Check with hotspot providers to make sure that the public wifi access point you’re logging onto is not a fake hotspot.
  • Make sure you only share trusted files; and turn off file sharing when it’s not in use.
  • Disconnect your laptop’s wireless connection when it’s not being used.

Parents

  • Request a free credit report to see if anyone is using your child’s identity and Social Security number is being fraudulently used to obtain credit.
  • Use a VPN (virtual private network) like PRIVATE WiFi™ to protect your  child’s online privacy by encrypting all data sent over the Internet.

If you have a story about how your child’s online safety was threatened, tell us about it.

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