Beware the cyber criminals targeting your kids

07 June 2023

Today's tech-savvy youngsters have grown up with the internet. They trust it and are very public about their lives on it. However, scammers and predators lurk round every corner – and it can be a minefield to negotiate for children. 

From embarrassing social media posts to fake online offers, fraudsters are always looking for new ways to take advantage of young people – with some targeting children purely to gain access to their parents’ wealth. 

“The internet is a vast and fast resource that can be a great source of information and entertainment,” says Hannah Rodden, Fraud Awareness Manager at Barclays. “However, it can also be a dangerous place, especially for kids. It’s important for parents to talk to their children about the risks of using the internet and to teach them how to stay safe. And, by doing so, you’re potentially keeping your finances safer, too.”

Yet, for many younger people today, the concept of never posting another photo online would be hard to comprehend. Online habits are now so entrenched in their lives, and they spend more time online than their parents1 – sometimes up to three hours more per day. According to some sources, half of their waking hours are spent on screens2. And while they may be more digitally literate than their parents, they are not necessarily more cautious when it comes to cyber security. Hence why the cyber criminals have them in their sights.

Online scams on the rise

In a sign of how diverse levels of risk awareness are across generations, a 2021 study by Social Catfish3 found that teenagers are more likely to fall for online ruses than their grandparents. The risks are amplified the longer they’re online, giving the fraudsters a bigger window of opportunity to scam and harass.

“Children are generally knowledgeable about how to use the internet; however, they may be more willing to take risks online than their parents,” says Archie Nelson, Operational Requirements Lead at cyber security firm XCyber.  

“Young people are also more likely to share personal information online. This potentially leads to bad habits, as they then believe it’s okay and harmless to share everything online. Unfortunately, this also makes them an easy target for the cyber criminals. It’s this oversharing – and the harvesting of this information – that can then be used by the online fraudsters to track down the parents of the child and target them for financial gain.”

How hackers harvest your information

It doesn’t take much for an online attacker to get their foot through the door and when they see a weak link in security, they can move with devastating pace.

The criminals will feed off this trail of breadcrumbs, using the information to learn more about an individual. From social media posts that reveal your location, to hacked apps or compromised passwords leading to personal information being leaked to the dark web. All of this can then be pieced together to play back against you and your family – with the cyber criminals launching a variety of attacks, including phishing, malware, and ransomware. Thieves have also been known to use the location data from images to target homes to break into.

“The hackers are ingenious, and will stop at nothing,” warns Nelson at XCyber. “For instance, if they know you are a football fan, they can send you an email that looks like it is from your favourite football club. The email might say that you need to renew your season tickets. And because they already know all this information about you, you’re far more likely to click on the link in the email – potentially tricking you into handing over your bank details.”

Be careful what you post online

Children are not the only ones who can be careless with their personal information online. Typically, by the time a child turns 13, parents will have posted 1,300 photos and videos of them on social media. And once children themselves start using social media, when they’re 18, they will have had an average of 70,000 posts shared about them online4.  

While those pictures might represent great memories for you, they’re a potential goldmine for cyber criminals. 

And while hackers are a threat to everyone’s online privacy, your children – once they enter the world of work – are also at risk of being scrutinised by potential employers. Many employers now use social media to screen job candidates, and a quick search of open-to-see profiles may reveal embarrassing or incriminating information that could come back to bite.

If you’re concerned about what information your children may have shared on social media, it’s a good idea to suggest they tidy up their accounts. Or at the very least, to shield them from strangers. 

“Younger people need to be mindful of what they post online, especially during their university days and if they're about to start applying for jobs,” adds Nelson at XCyber.

“Without wanting to spoil the fun, there is value in tightening up on your social media activity. Failure to do so, could cost more than you bargained for.”

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