HOW YOUR CHILD’S IDENTITY IS STOLEN BY HACKERS

It’s adorable to hear about the newborn, the birthdays, the accomplishments. But it is just giving more information to future identity thieves.

There are few things more heartwarming than seeing parents posting about their children on social media. Their names, their pictures, their birthdays, their accomplishments, their teachers, their pets. What parents wouldn’t want the world to know how wonderful their child is?

In recent years, however, such “sharenting” has gotten some pushback for violating children’s privacy, and depriving them of choices about their online identities. How, some people are asking, will my 21-year-old daughter feel one day about what I’m sharing now?

But what has gotten little attention is how sharenting also should raise concerns about their children’s future online security.

Starts before birth

It all, of course, seems so innocuous and precious, and starts even before birth. Parents post images of their scans, with due dates included, to social-media sites. Both parents are usually tagged. The follow-up is a birth announcement, which normally includes the child’s full name, date of birth, time of birth, weight and hospital. Milestones are next: the child’s first steps, first holiday, first pet, first word, best friend, favorite food. 


If these milestones sound familiar, it is because they are routinely used as answers to the security “challenge” questions that we use to get into online accounts when we forget our passwords. One survey on password choice found that 42% of British people use either a pet’s name, a family member’s name or a significant date as their password. You want to hack into somebody’s account 10 years from now? Just look back online and see the name of a first pet or a first-grade teacher. It’s all probably going to be there for the taking.

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Barclays Bank warned that by 2030, after another decade of parents gleefully and unknowingly sharenting at current rates, 7.4 million identity-theft cases could occur a year. The Identity Theft Resource Center warns that by combining information from social media, such as name, date of birth and address, along with the troves of hacked personal data available to buy cheaply on the dark web, such as Social Security numbers, a scammer has all the details needed to open up a bank account or take out a loan in a child’s name.

The pandemic has compounded this issue. One study found that many schools encouraged parents to post videos to social media to keep children connected, increasing the volume of personal information about children’s home lives being shared online.

Thousands of photos

By their fifth birthday, the average child will have around 1,500 photos of themselves shared online. This means that by the age of 13, when children are allowed to use social-media sites themselves, there could already be almost 4,000 photos depicting them online. Those figures don’t include children of parent influencers, who build careers around posting information about their children to a worldwide fan base completely unknown to them, with unknown trustworthiness.

An emerging threat to children is the use of AI technology used to create deep fakes: images, videos, GIFs, sounds or voices manipulated to look or sound like someone else. Given the vast volume of children’s images and videos posted online by their parents, malicious creation of deep fakes could be used by cyberbullies or school bullies.

When posting information online, parents don’t normally ask their children for their consent. Yet consider this: The U.K. Safer Internet Centre’s survey on young people’s experiences online found that 46% of them felt anxious and out of control of their information when they discovered posts about themselves online that they hadn’t been aware of. A further 44% felt angry, with only 15% seemingly being indifferent.

Coming explosion

It’s clear that this information is a ticking time bomb, and likely to result in an explosion of embarrassment and angst for our children as they grow up, as well as exposing them to identity theft.

What can we do about it? For one thing, parents should be aware that their shout-outs about their children—however well-meaning—could cause real long-term damage to the people they most love.

In addition, our social-media privacy settings can help control the audience that sees our posts. Ensuring we are comfortable with which social-media platforms we use, how our profiles are set up, how public our posts are, and what information we are giving away can help us make informed choices on how our children’s digital footprints are shaping up.

Understanding the real-world consequences of sharenting allows us all to make better-informed choices on our decision to post or not to post. We all want to give our children the best lives they can possibly live. Let’s not undermine it by constantly telling the world how wonderful they are. 

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