(K-LOVE CLOSER LOOK) – “Technology scares us most of the time,” admits Patrick Craven, director of the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, “and our kids are involved in it.” The Center focuses on building awareness of ever-present threats like identity theft and online predators. Surveys of youth and their online habits are alarming. “I gotta tell you,” says Craven. “It was pretty shocking – just frightening.”
“We found that 40% of elementary school children have already chatted with a stranger online -- and half of them of have given out their phone number.”
The realities of internet missteps by younger and younger children exposes an urgent need to teach kids how to spot and report suspicious activity. “A child gets a phone now on average by 10-yrs-old. We can’t wait till they’re in middle school or high school.”
The shift to distance-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic added a new dimension to the risk, as kids were mandated to spend even more unsupervised time online. Increased cyber connection with your child’s school also increased family exposure to ID thieves and potential financial ruin as emails that appear to be from teachers could actually be phishing scams. “Schools for a long time didn’t really think they were susceptible to that because they didn’t feel like they had anything anybody wanted – but they have a lot – they have lots of personal information on those children.” From lists of emergency contacts to sensitive medical data, schools are deeply desirable targets for internet scammers looking for private information to abuse or sell.
Craven warns parents to rabidly guard their child’s identity. Savvy criminals have turned to setting up fake credit card accounts using a child’s social security number because they know it will be literally years before the theft is even discovered. “There’s been lots of cases where children have had bankruptcy because where loans were taken out in their name.” Protective apps, strong passwords, discretion on social media posts and direct parental supervision remain crucial to preventing such events, but Craven says there is no substitute talking to kids about how to protect themselves from digital threats.
“We really gotta work with the kids on how much personal information they’re putting online.”
Click below for full Closer Look interview with the Center for Cyber Safety and Education and hear from Eliza McCoy with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about their age-appropriate training program called Netsmartz.