Everyone is familiar with kidnapping, but have you heard about digital kidnapping? While it might not be as scary as physical kidnapping, it's a type of identity theft that targets kids — and it's growing at an alarming rate.
So what is digital kidnapping? Digital kidnapping is when a stranger steals a minor’s photo from the internet and posts the photo as if it’s their own. They then post these photos across their social media accounts and revel in the “likes” and comments they receive. There are even a set of social media hashtags that can accompany such pictures, indicating to viewers that the poster is role playing and creating a faux life outside their real word. These hashtags may include, #adoptionrp, #orphanrp, and #babyrp.
This is all extremely unnerving. But, what’s even more worrisome is that it’s also being taken to the next level, where cyber criminals have leveraged photos of children to create completely new identities — and even used these personas to infiltrate the lives of other children. You can imagine some of the horrible crimes that ensue from there.
There are 2.8 billion global social media users, which means about 37 percent of the total world population has gone social. These channels are growing exponentially, as are the number of pictures of children being circulated. So many of us are posting pictures of ourselves and our kids with little regard to who sees them or how these pictures could be used or stolen.
When the new school year began, the wave of pictures appearing on various social feeds primarily focused on children. Many parents not only posted first day of school pictures, but had their child stand and hold a sign indicating the child’s name, grade, school and teacher — sometimes even in front of a mailbox, house number or street sign.
While these back-to-school pictures are a great keepsake, this can give an identity thief the necessary means to discover your child’s personal information. Combine these pictures with the ability to trace the geotag, which is the geographical meta data assigned to your pictures, and you’ve got the perfect storm for a criminal to pounce. Even more invasive, they can search for you on Facebook to uncover when you celebrate your child’s birthday and then add that birth date to their list of information. When you put all this information online, it’s easy to see how a fraudster can put all of the pieces together.
It's okay to share photos of your family and children on the internet and through social media channels, but there’s a level of awareness that’s important for you and your family to consider.
Here are five tips to keep your children’s image and identity safe:
- Be selective. Most people won’t stop posting on social media altogether, but I’d encourage you to be selective and cautious. Here’s a quick side note around over-posting: There was a recent study indicating that people who post large numbers of pictures on social media could have a form of depression. In general, it’s important to not only be aware of your own posting habits, but to keep an eye to what your family friends and members are posting and how frequently. Continue to think twice before you post!
- Limit access to pictures of your children. As a parent, set stricter privacy settings on your social accounts to limit who sees your children. For example, within your Facebook account, you may consider limiting your posts to only your friends and even make it so that profile pictures, cover photos, etc. aren’t publicly viewable.
- Don’t give away your location. Images of your children at their birthday party or celebrating a holiday at your home can reveal the exact locations these pictures were taken. How? Every time you take a smartphone or digital camera photo, data called EXIF is created. It includes the precise location or GPS coordinates of where the image was taken. Remove the EXIF information from your smartphones and digital cameras to protect your location information.
- Follow the golden rule. You wouldn’t want someone posting a picture of you without your consent and vice versa. Teach your kids not to share photos without asking permission. What they may consider a shareable photo may not be how you or others view it.
- Remember, the internet is forever. Remember nothing really gets deleted from the web. Social media is still in its infancy, and we don’t really understand the long-term impact social posts and capturing embarrassing firsts, along with general tirades about parenting, can have on our children. Being aware of boundaries and going back to my first point will help you determine the benefit versus the harm a post may have upon a growing child.