Feature Article
Mark Pribish
Back To School Safety Needs to Include Internet Security and Safety Tips
By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

As students, parents and teachers begin the new school year, a common topic of discussion is school safety and school safety tips.

Common topics of school safety typically include things such as how students travel to school (e.g. walking, biking, driving, and riding the school bus) , backpack safety (and being careful about the weight of a backpack and potential back pain), eating during the school day (including healthy choices and hydration) and bullying (when one child or a group of children repeatedly pick on another child).

While the above are all very, very important topics to discuss - there is a new and emerging school safety threat - and this school safety threat is related to Internet security and safety.

This new and emerging security and safety threat includes numerous websites, blogs and applications that create the potential for dangerous interaction bordering on risky behavior between fellow students to child predators. I would like to discuss three websites in particular including formspring, tumblr and textplus.

  1. formspring (http://www.formspring.me/follow/stream) is a website that allows its users to set up a profile page so that anyone can ask a user questions and post comments. The questions and given answers are then published on the user's profile page.
  2. tumblr (http://www.tumblr.com/about) is a blogging platform that allows users to post text, images, videos, links, quotes and audio to their tumblelog; a short-form blog. Users can follow other users, or choose to make their tumblelog private. The service emphasizes ease of use.
  3. textPlus (http://www.textplus.com) is a third party text messaging company that has applications for Android phones, IPhones and personal computers that allow you to send SMS messages. At the same time, textPlus allows users to anonymously send text messages without ever being identified.

As a parent of two teenage daughters, I was shocked to learn last year how some of these websites allow for anonymous questions and answers.

Once I learned – through an informal middle school and high school survey – that most students believe the above mentioned websites are anonymous – I realized most of this "anonymous blogging and texting" is creating risky behavior.

Examples of this risky behavior include very open questions and answers about parents, teachers and students. Most of the blogging and texting by students that I have personally read include responses with very open and public answers ranging from sex, alcohol abuse, and drug use.

Furthermore, some of these "anonymous" conversations gravitate to threatening texting and blogging such as "I hate you", "I will come over to your house and kill you" to overt sexual conversations such as "what is your favorite position", to complete sexual history. As a friend in the FBI reminds me, these acts are not only dangerous, but can be illegal, as threats can be harassment, and forwarding sexting pictures of a minor constitutes child pornography.

A bigger concern that I have, other than the uncontrolled environment of teenager's blogging and texting about sex, drugs and alcohol – is how these same teenagers are sharing full names, cell phone numbers, and the cities that they live in. Now, without realizing the consequences, these students have opened themselves (and their family members) to potential Identity Theft, violent behavior and sexual predators!

That said, I encourage every parent and teacher to take the time to talk to your middle and high school students about responsible behavior when using the Internet in general and "anonymous websites" in particular.

I know that I will be talking to my teenagers again as their new school year starts.

To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.


Scam Central

Social Media Scam – Tweeting for Cash

This scam includes value propositions such as "Make Money On Twitter!" and "Work At Home and Tweet For Profit". The claim is that anyone can work from home and make large sums of money (e.g. thousands of dollars each month) simply by "tweeting." This scam is especially appealing at the moment with the economic recession and high unemployment rates.

How It Works:

Twitter is being used by scam artists and ID Theft criminals who are promoting a work-from-home email scam where cash-strapped consumers are desperate to make money and pay bills. Individuals who fall for this scam are asked for their credit card number in order to pay a $1.95 shipping fee to get their "Twitter Cash Starter Kit."

The unsuspecting consumer pays the fee to "work from home" and ends up sending money to some rogue company. However, once you have paid using your credit card number, the criminals have it. Subsequently, these scam artists and ID theft criminals keep charging your credit card each month.

Many who have been taken by this scam learn that they receive a Starter Kit with a 7-day free trial and then the scam company charges a monthly fee ranging from $25 to $50, unbeknownst to the victim, who often has to cancel the credit card in order to stop the fraudulent charges.

Your Defense:

Avoid responding to any advertisement which requires an up-front fee in order to be accepted for a position of employment.

While it is true that there are many costs involved with hiring new employees (background checks, drug screening, etc.), nearly every legitimate organization should be willing to spend this money to ensure they hire individuals with integrity, who are qualified. If there are any costs associated with training, certifications etc., which you will actually be responsible for, this should be clearly disclosed during the interview process or when a job offer is extended. By that point you will certainly already know if the company is legitimate.

Lesson learned – if it is too good to be true...

If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today.