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Internet safety tips amid the coronavirus pandemic

According to data released by the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, IC3 received 467,361 internet crime complaints in 2019.

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — June is National Internet Safety Month. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, you might find yourself surfing the web more often than usual. Whether you're working from home or downloading a fun online activity for your children, safety is the top priority.

The FBI is the lead federal agency for investigating cyber attacks by criminals, overseas adversaries, and terrorists. According to data released by the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, IC3 received 467,361 internet crime complaints in 2019. That's an average of nearly 1,300 complaints every day. 

The most frequently reported complaints were phishing and similar ploys, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion. The most financially costly complaints involved business email compromise, romance or confidence fraud, and spoofing, or mimicking the account of a person or vendor known to the victim to gather personal or financial information. 

"Criminals are getting so sophisticated," said Donna Gregory, the chief of IC3. "It is getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell real from fake."

While email is still a common entry point, frauds are also beginning on text messages—a crime called smishing—or even fake websites—a tactic called pharming.

"You may get a text message that appears to be your bank asking you to verify information on your account," said Gregory. "Or you may even search a service online and inadvertently end up on a fraudulent site that gathers your bank or credit card information."

The IC3 accepts online internet crime complaints from either the actual victim or from a third party to the complainant. If you need to file a complaint, click here.

During National Internet Safety Month, the Better Business Bureau is encouraging everyone to stay safe while online and avoid being easy targets for online scammers. Some of the most commonly reported scams include:

  • Creating accounts on websites without permission: Social media sites are no exception. Many sites will sell unauthorized user details to advertisers looking to engage in targeted marketing. When creating an account, the user may falsely create a birthdate to meet the minimum age requirement.
  • Contests and giveaways: Contests and giveaways require a hefty amount of personal information to enter. Many are thinly disguised ways of collecting personal or financial information that could lead to identity theft. Make sure your child doesn't have access to banking or credit card information.
  • Phishing: Adults are not the only ones who receive spam and junk mail. Kids often get junk mail and without as much experience online, are more likely to be susceptible. While some emails may be legitimate, a vast majority are not and the last thing parents want, or need, is a $500 bill from a fraudulent website where a purchase may have been made.
  • Understand apps. Short for "applications," apps are downloaded software that operate on various devices. However, there are some things adults should be aware of. Certain apps might collect and share personal information about your child including ads that look innocent but aren't. Even free apps may include paid features, and children may not understand that some apps or game features cost money, since they were labeled as free to download. They may click on these so-called free games and end up costing parents or guardians a hefty bill at the end of the month.
  • File sharing sites: Many websites allow children to download free media. What they may not know is these sites often come with the risk of downloading a virus allowing identity thieves to access the gaming device, personal computer or even cell phone that's being used. From there, the cyberthief can track financial transactions, physical location or even tap into the household wifi without anyone knowing it.

The BBB is also offering the following tips on how to manage online privacy for the family:

  • Know about CARU. CARU's self-regulatory program provides detailed guidance to children's advertisers on how to deal sensitively and honestly with children's issues. These guidelines include, but go beyond, the issues of truthfulness and accuracy to consider the uniquely impressionable and vulnerable child audience.
  • Know about COPPA. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act protects personal information of children under the age of 13 on websites and online services—including apps. COPPA requires those sites and services to notify parents and get their approval before they collect, use or disclose a child's personal information. However, if your nine-year old tells Instagram they are 13 (the age requirement to use the app), he or she won't be protected by this law.
  • Know about FOSI. The Family Online Safety Institute brings an international perspective to the potential risks, and harms as well as the rewards of our online lives. The Good Digital Parenting web portal is a great resource for families looking to educate online safety measures in the Internet age.
  • Read privacy policies together and understand privacy settings. Parents can have their children read the privacy policies and terms of use of any apps they want to use. There might be a little grumbling that the policies "are too long" or that "it takes too much time," remind them of the importance of knowing what they are signing up for and insist. Then, take time to learn and understand the privacy settings on each of the apps and games. Less is more when it comes to sharing information.
  • Don't share your location. Nearly every app automatically tracks a user's location. From placing an online order for groceries or fast food to playing an online game, review the apps on all of your devices to see which ones are tracking your location. Then, if it's not needed, look in the settings to see how to disable this feature. Advise a friend or family member to avoid geo-tagging their posts with their location. Why? For example, you don't want to announce the fact your family is vacationing out of state while the house sits empty. A simple review of the geo tagged post will reveal where you really are.
  • Use parental controls if necessary. Although the best way to keep a child's online privacy safe is to teach them to manage it themselves, it doesn't hurt to have their backs by using parental controls. Today Android, iOS, and most web browsers offer built-in features that allow parents to monitor their children's online activities, but third-party apps are available as well. Research the option that works best. Follow through with the child the reasons why you're monitoring their activities.
  • Share with care and remember, personal information is like money. What is posted online can last a lifetime: parents can teach children that any information they share online can easily be copied and is almost impossible to take back. Talk to them about who might see a post and how it might be perceived in the future and share with them anything they do online can positively, or negatively, impact other people. Sharing personal information can also give online thieves an idea of what log information or passwords might be used for banking accounts or other online accounts.

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