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Parents: Your online posts about kids could affect their long-term financial health

As a parent, you’ve taught your children to be careful online. You’ve explained the potential risks in dealing with strangers, cautioned them to take care about what they post to social media services and set reasonable boundaries for screen time.

But are you following your own advice when it comes to protecting your children’s personal data? If you’re over-sharing about your kids’ activities online—a social phenomenon researchers have dubbed “sharenting”—you may be opening up your children to future risks that could include financial fraud or identity theft.

That’s according to financial services and investment banking leader Barclays, who prepared the video presentation above to encourage parents to think more carefully about the implications of information they post online about their family lives. While you might not see much potential harm in publishing details about your kids on social media sites, those details could ultimately end up being a bonanza for criminals and identity thieves.

“Through social media, it has never been easier for fraudsters to gather the key pieces of information required to steal someone’s identity,” Jodie Gilbert, head of digital safety for Barclays, tells the BBC. “It is vital to think before you post, and to carry out regular audits of your social media accounts to prevent that information from falling into the wrong hands.”

The unseen risks of social sharing

Barclays breaks down the risks by the numbers:

  • The average parent spends 96 minutes on social media daily
  • 75% share images of their kids or other personal information that could be used to facilitate fraud or identity theft

For example, if you posted photos from your daughter’s birthday party, it wouldn’t take long for someone to puzzle together her name, address and birthdate using online sources. They could then use that information to apply for a credit card and run up charges in her name. With a few keystrokes, you may have unwittingly made her a target for identity theft and credit card fraud.

The risk is only heightened by the fact that your friends and other family members are likely posting details as well. For example, it might make your parents proud to share good news about their grandchildren. Unfortunately, they may be sharing more information about your family than anyone intended. Speak to friends or family members if they’re posting content about your family without permission.

And remember—much of the information we publish online is likely to be there for years, readily accessed either through search engines or with a few simple hacks. Remember: even comments, photos and other information that you thought you deleted can still be accessible online as part of your or your child’s “digital footprint.”

That means that stray details like mothers’ maiden names and names of pets (personal data often used as passwords or answers to security questions on bank accounts, for example) can be easily tracked down and used to build a composite portrait that can be the foundation of fraud or identity theft—even years after the fact.

What can you do?

Barclay’s points to their partners at Get Safe Online for comprehensive resources about staying safe online, which includes break-out sections with advice for parents of kids in different age groupings. And check out Barclays’ Digisafe initiative for additional tips on how to stay safe online, like password security, dealing with ‘phishing’ and other online fraud schemes, and getting the most out of available privacy tools.

And it’s not just the potential financial threats that are cause for concern. Experts also emphasize that thoughtless online posting can pose an unforeseen risks to a child’s later career or personal development.

“It’s very rare that parents are sharing maliciously, but they haven’t considered the potential reach or longevity of what is happening with the information they’re posting,” Stacey Steinberg, a University of Florida law professor and associate director of the school’s Center on Children and Families, says in an interview on sharenting in The Atlantic. “The reality is that the data shared by parents could be revealed by Google search algorithms for years to come. And we don’t know what our children’s goals might be when they get older.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician with Boston Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, reminds readers that “nothing online is private and everything is permanent.” Writing at HealthyChildren.org, she shares five questions parents should ask themselves before sharing photos or other information about your kids online:

  1. Why are you sharing it? 
  2. Would you want someone to share it about you? 
  3. Could your child be embarrassed by it, now or in the future? 
  4. Is there anyone in the universe who shouldn’t see this about your child, now or at any point in the future? 
  5. Is this something you want to be part of your child’s digital footprint? 

Thinking through those kinds of questions can help to minimize the risk of posting something that, while seemingly innocuous today, may become a cause for later regret. Talk with your child about what is safe and appropriate to post and share online—and then make sure you’re following the same rules yourself.

Social media and the larger ecosystem of online connectivity have been a boon to the economy and to our personal lives. But don’t let the convenience of publishing and connecting online put your children’s future at risk. Check out the video from Barclays, review the online safety tips and play it smart when you’re posting online.

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