Tremendous strain is placed on parents having to manage the uncertainty and risk in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic along with the physical, emotional, and educational needs of their children. People have been forced to change the way they live, work, and interact with each other. To say that the past year has been challenging is a major understatement. As the summer months draw near and schools take a recess from in-person and distance learning, many families will seek a much-needed break.
While the summer vacation season provides family respite from the past year’s demands and helps renew the resiliency families require to ensure their well-being, all parents and caregivers must always be mindful that predators never take a vacation from seeking ways to entice and exploit children. Parents must be cautious 100% of the time while predators only have to be lucky once, and the consequences can be dire.
Serious Threats – Child Identity Theft Fraud And Online Sexual Exploitation
Unfortunately, cyber threats continue to grow in scale and sophistication. The adverse financial and personal impact on peoples’ lives continues to morph with every evolution of cyber scams and criminal activity. The internet is a permanent component in society, an enabler of global commerce, education, health, and interconnectedness. It is as much a force for good as it is a potential risk to the very societal institutions and people who have become dependent on a robust and safe internet. Children represent an at-risk population in all things cyber-related, from being potential victims of identity theft to the heinous crimes of online sexual exploitation of children.
Advances in computer technology and greater access to the internet have created online marketplaces for transnational cyber criminals to share stolen information such as credit card data and personally identifiable information (PII). All would agree that one’s child is your most precious and priceless asset, to be protected against all threats and dangers. What about a child’s PII? There is a price for this information on dark web forums, and the damage to repair can be costly and time-consuming. Your child’s identity (DOB, SSN) is a gold mine to fraudsters and can be purchased on the dark web for as little as $1. How often have you run your child’s credit history to check for fraudulent activity? If you are like most people, the answer is never.
Criminals target and profit from our children’s PII. For instance, a child’s SSN combined with other pieces of factual information can be used by criminals to create fictitious identities, a crime known as synthetic identity fraud. This fraud is a growing problem in the United States, as evidenced by a recent Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab study which found that children are 51 times more likely to be victims of identity theft than adults. Parents need to safeguard their children’s sensitive information to every extent possible.
A Daunting Challenge
Child exploitation is a major problem in our country with far-reaching impact and lasting societal consequences. It is an unfortunate reality that missing and exploited children continue to be a massive challenge globally. The spread of online Child Sexual Abuse Material, online grooming, and child sex trafficking are some of the threats facing children. The popularity and wide use of gaming apps also pose a venue for predators to target children for exploitation. The impact of stay-at-home restrictions translates to children spending increased time online, often unsupervised, and a decrease in opportunities for mandated reporters to notice signs of abuse.
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), more than 21.7 million suspected online child sexual exploitation reports were made to their CyberTipline in 2020. One form of exploitation reported to the CyberTipline is child sex trafficking. Of the more than 26,500 endangered runaways reported to NCMEC in 2020, one in six were likely victims of child sex trafficking. Today, the average age of child sex trafficking victims reported missing to NCMEC is a mere 15 years old.
Tips For Parents
- Protect your computer and all electronic devices while on vacation, at airports, hotels, etc
- Talk to your children about protecting themselves and not sharing personal data
- Good cyber hygiene practices help reduce risk
- Remain vigilant in monitoring activity
- Create unique and complex passwords
- Teach your child about identity theft and online safety
- Safeguard your child’s sensitive documents
- Watch for mail in your child’s name
- Review your statements and report suspected fraud to the institution and law enforcement
- Exercise care with your child’s sensitive information and accounts
- Scrutinize all email attachments
- Password protect your Wi-Fi
- Install and update antivirus and antispyware software
- Secure your internet browser and browser add-ons
- Freeze your child’s credit
- Practice a healthy amount of skepticism of anyone, particularly online, that requests information about your child
Always keep in mind there are as many recommended tips and best practices geared towards effective mitigation of the cyber threats posed to your children as there are ways for criminals to circumvent and exploit the inherent vulnerabilities. However, the influence of the child and parent in this process cannot be overlooked. People contribute to and detract from their security and safety surrounding online activity and transactions.
Protecting your data, the security of your personal digital devices, and your child’s online activity, comes down to your proactive engagement. The stronger your defense posture and mitigation plan, the more likely the cyber attacker or predator will opt for an easier target. Personal accountability should be a part of any family cyber-safety plan, whether at work, home, or while on vacation. ◙
§ child-identity-theft.pdf (cmu.edu)
§ checklists_kids.pdf (justice.gov)
§ Teach Your Kids Cyber Hygiene (and Freeze Their Credit) | DIAMOND CU
§ 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report: Official | Verizon Enterprise Solutions
§ Child Identity Theft – What to Know, What to Do (ftc.gov)
§ Child Identity Theft | FTC Consumer Information
§ Identity Theft | USA.Gov
§ Home (missingkids.org)
§ Child Sexual Abuse Material (missingkids.org)
§ Mobile Magic or Download Danger? How Apps Can Put Your Kids At Risk – Child Rescue Coalition
About Michael Breslin
Michael has more than two decades of experience in federal law enforcement and transnational financial and cybercrime investigations. He serves on the Cyber Investigations Advisory Board of the U.S. Secret Service and is the Strategic Client Relations Director for Federal Law Enforcement at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. Before joining LexisNexis Risk Solutions,
Michael served as Deputy Assistant Director for the Office of Investigations for the Secret Service, where he oversaw the planning and coordination of investigative responsibilities. Michael is also a Board Member for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.