Identity Theft, Social Media, and Children

Written by Daniel Woodruff, University of Florida

Safety isn’t as simple as it once was – in the age where technology dominates it is important to be informed and vigilant when online. Nine million Americans have their identity stolen each year, and most occur over the internet. As our parents taught us to look both ways before crossing the street, we must teach our children to protect their information online.

Common Sense Media did a study in 2018 that revealed that on average, teens spend nine hours a day online; the same study showed that children between eight and twelve spend six hours a day online. This is a significant portion of the twenty-four-hour day spent on the internet, interacting with others (sometimes strangers). Because of this, it is important to be aware of all the different ways your children can access the internet: From gaming devices to cell phones to even television, the internet is more accessible than it has ever been.

Although it is true the internet is accessible, most companies and providers offer ways to limit a child’s reach. Family settings on devices allow parents to regulate what websites the child can go to and settings within apps can require passwords for certain actions, such as accepting and sending “friend requests.” While these features are helpful, the key to protecting minors now and in the future is to inform them. Tell them that not everything on the internet is true; remind them that people online aren’t necessarily who they appear to be; stress to them that once something is posted on the internet, it is next to impossible to remove it completely.

Just as looking both ways before crossing the street doesn’t eliminate all risk of being hit, vigilance online doesn’t completely shield you and your children from identity theft and other dangers. In May of 2019 it was announced that the social media giant Instagram leaked contact information of its users for about four months. This information was cataloged and put on an unsecured database by an Indian marketing company called Chtrbox. The information consisted of phone numbers, emails, and more. Additionally, some of the information was of minor children. In the immortalized words of Dwight K. Shrute, “Identity theft is not a joke … Millions of families suffer every year!” We must stay alert of the personal information we put on the internet.

Dwight Shrute from NBC's The Office telling Jim that identity theft is not a joke

The information for this article was provided by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.