Cybercrimes against children have increased as distance learning becomes the norm.
The coronavirus has forced families to adopt an almost immediate remote schoolwork routine. Teachers are now posting assignments in apps and scheduling meetings online. Not only does this mean having to become accustomed quickly to an all new learning environment, but it can more readily expose children to computer viruses, inappropriate content, and other cybercrime activity. Federal investigators say online predators are more of a threat amid the stay at home mandate and they’ve seen an uptick in crime.
“We’re all missing our relationships that we have. Predators are aware of that, and they’re more than happy to fill that void,” said Dave Alley, special agent for Homeland Security Investigations. Alley, who works in the child exploitation unit, warned that online predators know which programs children are most likely to use and which sites they tend to frequent, and they use this knowledge to interact with those who are vulnerable.
“The predators will flock to what is popular with children,” he said. And, they know what to say to get them to engage in conversation. Alley added, “They also go over popular apps that are used by children because those are often what predators target.” These include YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat and TikTok, among others. He recommended setting the parental controls on these apps and checking browsing history on shared devices. Parents can select what is and isn’t visible to the public, but every app may work a bit differently.
“TikTok is a good reminder of why predators are so frustrating. This should be just a great fun app for children to produce, you know, fun videos for each other for their friends or their family, but like any social media application, where pictures videos, images are shared, we’re seeing children be solicited and abused on it,” he said.
One of the ways in which cybercriminals attract children is by pretending to be the same age. Alley asked parents to talk to their families about this risk. He also warned that any electronics in the home that are not accessible to adults are prime targets.
“Phones in the areas that aren’t open to the rest of the family are typically a recipe for disaster,” Alley said.
It seems the coronavirus pandemic has caused an uptick in cyberattacks across the state. Recently, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a warning to the public not to fall for a scam being used by criminals preying on their fears. Using false information, the department reported that they’ve seen an uptick in scams using the coronavirus to sell fake products, and steal consumers’ money and personal information through online correspondence, such as emails and social media posts.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said, “Regardless of who they claim to be, people who text or email asking for personal or financial information should be treated as potential thieves who may be trying to steal someone’s identity. Resist their believable scenarios and confirm the identity of a contact by independently speaking with the identified source. Do NOT provide any personal information to people who call or email seeking it. Remember, identity thieves are crafty, and they may attempt to contact people numerous times using various aliases.”