Gone Phishing? How to Talk to Your Kids About Malware


Picture this: The car is full. You’re navigating by the side mirrors while doing a mental inventory of everything you packed and wondering if you are going to make it to the realtor’s office in time to pick up the keys for your vacation rental. You have absolutely no idea what the kids are doing in the back seat.

Now forget the massive distraction of that summer road trip and consider the bigger picture. It doesn’t matter how old or worldly they are, or how ridiculously up in their business you are. You can’t know what your kids are doing every second of the day. And just like a good cops and robbers game, better surveillance only creates better criminals — which means all the more careful your child will need to be when your eyes aren’t directly on them.

While most of us have learned over the past few years to ignore the lures and snares of malware propagation — whether they come via app, Facebook post, email or text — no one is perfect, and kids may not understand the big picture well enough to avoid the hazards without some guidance.

The big picture is simple: There are criminals out there — more than you can imagine — whose day job it is to get enough of your personally identifiable information to steal goods and services in your name or crawl into your bank account and drain it; in other words, to commit identity-related fraud.

Your first job is to get this across to the children in your life: Criminals can use their information — personal details like birthdays, addresses, family names — to steal things — and those criminals do this by tricking kids into providing that information.

Yes, You Really Need to Have That Talk

Remember the toddler years when things went missing — car keys, credit cards, stock certificates, crown jewels — only to resurface during a weekend excavation of their play space or in the back of a sock drawer? Teens and tweens aren’t much better. They lose house keys and car keys too; they forget where they parked the car, smartphones disappear, and so on and so forth.

The bottom line here is that kids are strangers to two key concepts that help put a layer of protection between you and online scams aimed at separating you from your personally identifiable information.

While it’s true that focus and impulse control aren’t exactly something adults just magically acquire with age, when it comes to younger people, it’s an oxymoron. This is something that needs to be discussed, notwithstanding all the eye-rolls and sighs. That lack of impulse control is what makes phishing and other malware scams work.

Phishing attacks succeed or fail depending on a number of factors, but the main one is the target’s distraction level. Kids are not always the most mindful among us. This makes them targets for phishing scams.

Forget the Helicopter Routine

The very best advice I can give you here is to set strong “Do Not Cross” lines for them from the very start. Use examples of things that have gone missing, or days that have been horrible because of distraction, to start the conversation.

Tell them that real-life risk includes things digital, especially with regard to their personally identifying information. Have a basic rule: If you are asked for personal information, check with a parent. Explain some common tactics used by phishing scams. For example, popular websites and services require updating, authorization or validating an account. It’s a real thing, but scam artists use it to get personal information. All such requests should raise their level of concern.

Set a basic rule here: Only adults can provide payment information, or troubleshoot an account that has asked for information.

Tell them to watch out for websites that are almost right: If you follow a link that was sent via email or text or that was posted on a social network and something looks a little wrong, leave that site immediately.

Phishing scams often create sites that look like the real thing, but there are little differences here and there. That said, sometimes the only way to detect the fraud is by looking at the URL. The many scam sites will spell it a little differently, but just barely so.

Today’s kids know more than their parents about a dumbfounding array of topics that would make the most hardened politician blush. But unfortunately they may be even more vulnerable to phishing attacks, and it’s your job to keep them out of the shark tank.

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ID Scams Target Parents Just Trying to Protect Their Kids


Ask a parent how far they’d go to protect their child, and their answer would probably be along the lines of, “I’d do anything.” That’s a powerful statement — and it’s also a dangerous one. Sometimes, parents’ efforts to keep their kids safe can actually put their children at risk.

The Identity Theft Resource Center and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently issued a warning on this topic, telling parents to watch out for scams in the form of child ID kits. These kits contain all sorts of information about a child, and the idea is to have them readily accessible to assist law enforcement in finding a missing child.

We’re talking about a lot of personal information: a detailed description of the child, a color photo, fingerprints, DNA samples, dental records and medical reports. These things can be invaluable in an investigation regarding a missing child, but they’re also a treasure trove for identity thieves. Some child ID kits actually put a child at risk, and some are flat-out scams, according to the centers’ warning.

Whenever you’re prompted to share sensitive information with a third party, it’s important to research who you’re working with and maintain as much control over your data as possible. When it comes to child ID kits, here are some questions to ask before paying a company to put one together for you, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

1. What Happens to the Child ID Kit?

The centers recommend parents hold onto the kits and keep them in a safe location, because the more places this information is, the more likely it is to fall into the wrong hands. A company that offers to keep copies of the records should send up a red flag, the centers warn.

2. What Information Are They Asking For?

Some information about your child won’t help law enforcement find them if they go missing, like Social Security numbers and birth certificates. The centers advise parents to avoid companies asking for such information as part of a child ID kit.

3. Do Their Claims Hold Up?

Parents should do a little digging if they’re looking at a company that claims to be endorsed by law enforcement or says all their profits go to charity, the warning states. The centers suggest parents contact the law enforcement and charities in question to check out the claims themselves. Looking at reviews through organizations like the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator could also be helpful.

4. Do You Feel Pressured to Buy a Product?

Keep in mind you can put together a child ID kit on your own — if you pay someone to do it, what you’re really paying for is convenience. It’s up to you how you want to collect and store the information about your kids, so beware any company trying to scare you into buying their service.

The Identity Theft Resource Center is encouraging parents to be especially careful with their kids’ biometric information (fingerprints, DNA, etc.) because it’s an increasingly popular security tool. That makes it a target for identity thieves.

Besides being careful with child ID kits, it’s also a good idea to watch out for signs your child’s identity has been stolen, like if they’re getting loan or credit card offers in the mail. Before your child has credit of their own, they shouldn’t have a credit report, but each of the three major credit reporting agencies has tools for protecting your child’s credit and resolving child identity theft, if you’re concerned their personal information has been abused. As for your own identity protection, regularly checking your free annual credit reports and credit scores will help you spot any suspicious activity. You can get two free credit scores every month on Credit.com to help you stay on top of it.

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