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Online Crime and Kids: An Internet Safety Guide for Parents

Cybercrime is a broad catch-all term that seeks to encompass nearly every illegal activity in which the Internet or technology is involved. For those who want to know more about cybercrime and how to protect your kids against it (a topic we discuss at length in Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide), it may help to keep the following points in mind.

Whether you use the phrase cybercrime to refer to the practice of sending spam e-mails to perpetuate online fraud or using a computer to engage in sexual predation, both included crimes and penalties can be severe. It’s also a subject that all parents should be aware of for pressing reasons: Online protection firm Norton has conducted several global studies on the subject and determined that 2/3rds of adults globally have already been a victim of one form of cybercrime or another.

Troublingly, a report from Pandalabs shows that the problem is growing exponentially. According to the report, “five years ago there were only 92,000 strains of malware [read: malicious software] catalogued throughout the company’s 15-year history. This figure rose to 14 million by 2008 and 60 million by 2010.” And malware is just one type of cybercrime, before you even consider the countless stories reported in past decades of sexual predators luring underage kids into inappropriate relationships. These are the types of issues that can send chills up parents’ spines, and only serve to reinforce the point that there indeed people out there who are preying often on others over technology tools and services – potentially in growing numbers.

However, while the situation may seem scary, it’s also slightly heartening to know that often it’s simply a few bad seeds perpetuating these crimes – most Internet users are good apples. But it’s still imperative to keep your guard up to protect against a growing range of threats and criminals. Consider that most cybercrimes come from one of three sources, according to Symantec’s Marian Merritt: Bad people you don’t know, good people you do know who make a mistake, and mistakes that you make.  Learning how to prepare and protect yourself from all three trouble areas will help keep you and your family safer.

It’s also worth noting, according to Lynette Owens, the director of Internet safety for kids and families at Trend Micro, that cybercriminals aren’t necessarily targeting kids per se, but rather just going where kids and other potential targets go. This means turning to text messages, social networks and video sites – anywhere troublemakers think that they can persuade folks to click or provide info, cybercriminals are popping up.  And it just so happens that kids not only happen to use these popular online destinations and services – they’re also very susceptible to potential scams.

The US Department of Justice breaks cybercrime down into the following areas:

  • Hacking/Computer Intrusion
  • Password Trafficking
  • Child Pornography or Exploitation
  • Internet Fraud and Spam
  • Internet Harassment
  • Internet Bomb Threats
  • Trafficking in explosive or Incendiary Devices or Firearms Over the Internet

That’s obviously a broad list, but one that the government and law enforcement officials take very seriously. As a parent, it’s also one whose dangers you should take to heart too.

Tips:

  • Just as you would keep your kids out of bad neighborhoods where crimes occur and gangs are, you should also keep your kids out of places on the Internet where others may do them harm.
  • Be alert and be on the defensive about any and all online interactions with others. If you think you’ve come across someone using the Internet for illegal online activities, report the incident to the appropriate authorities. Internet-related crime, like any other form of crime, should be referred to law enforcement and investigative authorities at the local, state, federal, or international levels, depending on the scope of the crime. Note that citizens who are aware of federal crimes should report them to local offices of federal law enforcement.
  • Bookmark key threat reporting sites and stay abreast of the latest scams from sites like the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov).
  • Don’t respond to e-mails asking for personal information such as bank accounts, place of birth or other info.
  • Review bank and credit card statements to make sure there aren’t any strange charges from online sites.
  • Be leery of any solicitations from parties that are located outside of your home territory.

The Cybercrime section of the Department of Justice’s website offers several great tips on where to report different forms of cybercrime.  While you obviously don’t need to make the police aware of every piece of spam e-mail you get, the site does provide resources to turn to when faced with more serious crimes such as hacking and even bomb threats. Similarly, Cybertipline is a congressionally-mandated service where you can report crimes ranging from possession and the manufacture and distribution of child pornography to embedding words or images into a website to deliberately mislead a minor into viewing them.

Here are three more tips from Norton Online Safety for preventing Cybercrime:

  • Use caution when taking advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots – Wireless hotspots are a great resource and may feel like a lifesaver in some instances, but don’t use them to make online purchases or check your bank account. Make sure you’re using a secure network for tasks involving the transmission of personal or monetary information.
  • Use complex and unique passwords for each site or service – Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers and make your passwords as random as possible, rather than basing them on commonly-used dictionary words. [Ed. Note: We dig much deeper into safe password planning and online safety tips in the next section.]
  • Stay educated about trends in online security and cybercrime – Reading books such as the one you’re holding show that you’re actively working to stay on top of the latest issues facing your family online. It’s a good habit to get in, and one increasingly easily managed thanks to a wealth of online resources readily available to concerned parents via desktop, app and mobile device.

For more information about how to navigate the world of the Internet and high-tech devices with kids, see:

And for a comprehensive understanding of the topic, make sure to grab a copy of bestselling book Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide.

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