Parents Use Apps To Mobilize Against Child ID Theft

Wednesday, April 03, 2013
More kids than ever are accessing the Internet through mobile devices, and more children than ever are having their identities stolen. With child identity theft and Internet security concerns continuing to grow, parents are turning to mobile apps to help keep kids safe.

One in 40 households with children younger than 18 had at least one child compromised by identity theft, according to the 2012 Child Identity Fraud Survey by Javelin Strategy & Research, which was sponsored by the Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC).

Identity thieves and other predators are known to use social media and other online venues to target children. Widespread use of smartphones, which provide youngsters with direct access to the Internet, further complicates efforts to keep kids safe online.

Mobile apps aim to protect children in several ways.

First, apps like the FBI's Child ID App, allow parents to electronically store and easily access photos and vital information about their children in their own smartphones. If a child ever goes missing, parents can use the app to quickly share identifying information and images with law enforcement. The app also provides tips on keeping kids safe and what parents should do in the first few hours after a child goes missing - a critical time in any hunt for a missing person. The FBI says it does not use the app to collect or store information unless parents provide it during an emergency.

Other apps can help parents protect against child identity theft that might occur through online sources. Thirty-seven percent of teenagers own smartphones, and one in four accesses the Internet primarily through their phones, according to Pew Research Center's report "Teens and Technology 2013."

Identity thieves have been known to use social media sites to gather personal information that can be used to create synthetic identities. The most common ways is criminals combine a child's Social Security number with a different date of birth, according to the ITAC study.

Controlling a child's use of social media is another way to protect against identity theft, and apps like Kytephone allow parents to restrict the sites kids can access or apps they can download on their mobile devices. Net Nanny also offers a mobile app for Apple devices that filters online content and restricts what apps a child can download or use.

Teens aren't the only ones at risk on mobile devices, however. With many parents providing younger children with smartphones, or allowing them access to parents' devices for entertainment purposes, a younger group of kids may be exposed to child identity theft and other cyber crimes. Other apps, including free options, block a child's ability to access the browser on a smartphone and limit their mobile use to age-appropriate games, books or video.

"Smartphones and tablets have added new technology with new challenges (for parents)," Russ Warner, CEO of Net Nanny, told the Chicago Tribune.

Fortunately, it seems both parents and app makers recognize the need to take extra precautions to protect children from encountering online threats while they use mobile devices.

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