I was recently asked a really important question that I wanted to share with all of you parents out there:
“How do predators find & contact kids on social media and online? What can I teach them to help them be safer online?”
High level answer: Predators can find and contact kids through all of the internet sites that bring people together that have the capability to connect and chat. We’ve tested various sites across multiple platforms from gaming to chatrooms to teen dating sites and have been consistently able to create fake profiles and immediately start chatting to kids with only the verification of a throwaway email address. Teach your kids to become little detectives, asking for personal information, social media links, and multiple photos and have them do their own due diligence to confirm the person they’re talking to really is who they say that are.
Julie screaming from the rooftops: 10% of people online dating are sex offenders!
Julie’s answer: Identity verification across these sites barely exist these days. You can sign up for a fake email, use a burner phone number, connect through a VPN, and steal photos of whoever you decide to be that day. It’s never been easier to catfish someone. I personally tested a very popular “Kids Networking” site called MyLOL that says you must be between the ages of 13-17 to join. I took a stock photo of a young girl, created an email address, clicked that I was born in 2003, and voila. I, a 37 year old woman, was now able to talk to whoever I wanted on this teen site. Within minutes, I had a 15 year old boy message me to see if I was down to “hook up”. Which means if I can log in that easily, so can anyone else. [I then immediately started watching puppy videos to help the nausea that came from going down a very dark rabbit hole of sex offenders/pedophilia/stranger danger]
With teens communicating with strangers on so many platforms (from Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, to MeetMe) and then looking for love through various sites that claim to help you “Find New Friends!” “Network!” the internet is wide open for trouble.
What should you do: “Teens whose parents have talked to them “a lot” about online safety are less likely to consider meeting face to face with someone they met on the Internet (12% vs. 20%).” Talking to your kids about the dangers of meeting strangers off the internet is #1. Between not sharing personal information, not answering messages from people they don’t know, and always letting people know where you’re going when meeting someone for the first time, there’s going to be a lot to cover.
So while your teens aren’t going to be able to afford to hire us to do the detective digging on their new friend and they won’t ask you to either, you need to strongly reinforce the reasons for being safe online and then give them some extra examples of how they can verify that they are talking to the person they think they are talking to.
Examples of what to ask for:
- Live video chat (Skype, Facetime, etc.)
- Photo of the person holding up a specific number, object, or piece of paper with the date
- Social media links
- Drivers licence
I always tell our clients that since this person is a stranger, you have nothing to lose. If they get angry that you are trying to verify them, it’s usually a red-flag that they’re trying to hide something and walk away very quickly. I’ve had clients tell me that they’ve been yelled at for asking for a video call and that they should just trust them instead. Think of how crazy that sounds! If someone was trying to figure out whether or not I was real, I’d happily comply to send a picture of me smiling with the number 3 written on a piece of paper – peace of mind is the name of this game!
Need more reading on teen internet safety? We’ve got you covered:
Federal Trade Commission – www.OnGuardOnline.gov
ConnectSafely – www.connectsafely.org
Cyberbully411 – www.cyberbully411.org
GetNetWise – www.getnetwise.org
Internet Keep Safe Coalition – www.iKeepSafe.org
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – www.missingkids.com
Wired Safety – www.wiredsafety.org
NS Teens – www.nsteens.org
Social Networking Safety – www.ncpc.org
Kids’ Rules for Online Safety – www.safekids.com
The Essential Teen Internet Safety Guide – www.usdish.com
Cybersmile Foundation – www.cybersmile.org
The Family Online Safety Institute – www.fosi.org
To sum it all up: Talk to your kids. Educate them on the dangers and be sure to remind them that with everything in life, knowledge is power. And to you too! Lead by example! 😉 Safety all around.
Light and love always,