APThe phone of a teenage girl dings. She has a message on one of the many channels she keeps up with every day – Discord, TikTok, Snapchat, Tumbler, Instagram and more. An alleged boy, whom she only knows online but feels judged by, offers her to strip naked on video for him. He’s ready to send money for it. He’ll need some bank details. He’s chosen her he tells her, because she’s special. He makes sure to find her on a day when things with all the real-life boys aren’t going well. He knows this because he can monitor her every move online.
She doesn’t just want to be special. She needs to stand out to matter. And this girl isn’t the bad girl, the social outlier. There’s no way to toss this scenario aside. She could be the most popular, Straight As, busy in sports. She’s every kid. Keeping up with all of her online channels, in real time, is demanding. Every real-life moment is mirrored to online channels, in real time, all night, all day, all the time, with responses, quips, banter and photos, videos.
A teen’s social cyber standards today are a moving target.
There’s a TikTok star look now. If a teen doesn’t look TikTok star quality, then many social options can be off the table. There are a million rules like that for kids. And the predators are patient, smart, instructive and boost kids’ self-esteem while the real boys or girls cause anxiety.
Parents have protocols for everything, outsourcing the best for nannies, carpools, tutors, coaches, extra-curricular activities, mentors. From preschool to dropping them off at a college campus, parents have done everything in their power to ensure physical and emotional well-being.
Cybercriminals are way ahead of parent protocols.
Armed with their phones, kids are out there on their own, in the data war zone, their phone a loaded gun they don’t understand. The kids are in danger and so are parents. Those bank details the predator wants are tied to parents’ bank details. All kids are targets, however, private school kids with high net worth parents are particular targets because they lead predators to a big pay day.
According the FBI’s annual Internet Crime Report, more than 2,300 complaints about cybercrime are received daily by the FBI, a number they predict will only increase as our online lives continue on the trajectory they’re on. In 2021, $6.9 billion was lost due to cybercrime in the United States, up 64% from 2020. That dollar figure and percentage is also expected to continue to rise. The lion’s share of monetary losses were due to email compromise schemes, investment theft and confidence fraud/romance scams. All of these crimes are precisely the crimes committed against kids and parents.
“Kids’ entire lives are mirrored online and they move so fast, trying so hard to compete, they don’t notice the bad guys,” says Patrick Westerhaus, CEO of Cyber Team Six, a cybercrime prevention company with a patented approach, which he founded to help individuals be empowered to defeat cybercrime with its Eagle Eye Program. Westerhaus is a former FBI Special Agent and has devoted his life to understanding criminal behavior in order to defeat it. He has three children.
The moment kids have phones and online gaming devices, they are the easiest attack surface.
They are online all the time. Gaming, streaming, social media. Boys, girls, neurotypical, neurodivergent. They’re all easy targets. Cybercriminals love gamers because they can worm their way into the family home and finances through Wi-Fi, or the kids’ Bluetooth and geolocation services. Once inside the family network, cybercriminals can gain access to bank accounts, work accounts. All of this just by luring kids, Westerhaus warns. Check out: ways to help protect your students from malicious phishing attacks.
It’s time to empower parents to keep kids and the whole family safe from cybercriminals.
The security apps on phones and computers and devices aren’t going to do the trick, because the victims let the criminals in. The social media companies aren’t helping, either. Snapchat, over the last year, has changed its core promise from “all videos disappear” to “the recipient can save them without the sender’s control”. The naked girl videos can fetch $100 for full naked shots that are personalized, while lingerie shots range from $10-$20. Gaming devices, sites, competitions have zero controls. Parents have no idea who their kids are interacting with day in and day out.
Cybercriminals are very sophisticated at gathering personal identifying information (PII) on kids and parents, and then using that information to target families to steal, impersonate, commit fraud and physically abuse. This is what social engineering is.
The Internet of things has evolved into the cybercrime of things.
People have had their iPhones and online lives since 2008, when the iPhone debuted and changed all of our lives. So for 15 years our PII has been bought, sold, stolen, traded on the dark web, breached by Equifax, TikTok, PayPal, Hilton Honors Program, American Airlines, car dealerships, the DMV, the IRS. The list goes on. Covid sped up cybercrime because the IRS, the DMV, Social Security, and other key national service agencies had to go online to keep us all going. They went online years before they were ready.
There is plenty out there for hackers to work with, stealing usernames, passwords, account numbers, ancestry site results, dating profiles, social media profiles. The first thing to remember is that if there’s actual money stolen, that’s not the only problem. Even if it can be reimbursed by the banks. It’s the PII stolen along with the money that makes people ongoing targets.
They gather and gather until they can penetrate your family.
But there is a way to fortify kids and parents, to prevent so you never have to mitigate. Even if you must mitigate, then the same protocol protects you for the future. There is a great side benefit to cybercrime prevention and mitigation when done as a family: Kids are great at it. They often take charge. Once they’re exposed, many understand it very well. They often end up reverse-mentoring parents. And they’ll come to understand the predators they’ve been inviting in. Grossed out, upset, afraid and angry are all important because they’ll be more careful. Please make sure to do the mitigation and prevention with them. Because if parents don’t, then kids can rebel and retreat in secrets accounts and get into more trouble. Shame is quiet.
Fortify you and your kids from cybercrime
How do you make your personally identifying breached data useless to hackers, so even when they get it, they can’t get to your kids, steal from you or impersonate you? You neutralize it. Make that data no longer linked to your accounts, your family’s online life.
Get a Personal Cybercrime Victim Report (PCVR)
A PCVR, investigates all the breached personal data that is sitting out there on you and instructs you how to neutralize it.
If you have had any symptoms – scam texts, phone calls, emails, this is highly advisable.
A PCVR is the blood test of cybercrime. You need to know exactly what has been breached in order to slam all your doors shut in hackers’ faces.
- Do not store your passwords or even usernames for any online accounts online. No keychain, no “remember me” on app accounts, no password protector programs, no saved payment methods on your browser. The only place to store passwords is on paper. Remember address books? Get one. Kids are great at memorizing. Give them a secret place to put their username and passwords and change them as a family once a month. Put it on the kitchen calendar.
- Change your username and password, not just your password, for all online accounts. Choose something random like greenchair53! as your username, and something equally random as your password. It must be something that cannot be linked to you.
- Get kids a separate, secure email for gaming and social media that is used only for that. Not linked to anything, particularly not Uber/Lyft accounts, bank accounts, anything with a credit card stored for transactions. Proton.me emails are okay, but spring for the $6.99 per month ones. The protection is much better than the free ones.
- Log out when you are not using an app. Close your browser, turn off your Wi-Fi and computer at night.
- Turn off your Bluetooth, AirDrop and geolocation services such as Maps and Find My Phone, Share My Location when you are not using them. Remind the kids. It’s just habit. Especially at night before bed or when hanging out somewhere after school or on weekends. Cyber intel is also used for personal attacks. Leaving all of this on is literally like leaving your house with all the windows and doors open, no alarm in place, no cameras.
- Use your personal hotspot on your phone when you’re at Starbucks, or the airport, or any public place with public Wi-Fi. Do not use Wi-Fi that is not password protected. Hackers troll public places and with almost no effort get into your phone and your apps via public Wi-Fi. Play networked games only in secure Wi-Fi spots.
Callout quote from a cyber predator victim.
This story is real but I’m protecting the name and location of the victim. Z.E. was in 8th grade when asked to send naked photos to what later turned out to be a 23-year-old man – the age of many young teachers.
“At the time, I really felt like nobody understood me except for the predator I had been speaking to. That’s one of the ways they get to you. They make you feel isolated and demand so much of your attention that you feel forced to withdraw from friends and family. They make you feel guilty for not answering quickly enough, and make empty threats toward their own safety, or those around them, when you don’t comply. A predator will say anything necessary to get what they want, but the companionship and sense of security they promise isn’t something they can actually give.” Now a college student, Z.E. has advice for parents to share with kids: “Remember, though, someone who really cares about you won’t pressure you to cross your boundaries, and they won’t demand that you isolate yourself to give them all of your attention and time.”