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The hidden dangers in your kid's backpack

If your child's bag contains electronics, keys or other personal items, your back-to-school season could be wrecked by identity theft.

By Aug 7, 2014 12:14PM
This post comes from Adam Levin at partner site on MSN MoneyWhether you’re scanning the surf to protect your little ones from a rogue jellyfish, lazing at home on a stay-cation or carting kids to camp, you’re probably already thinking about your back-to-school to-do lists.

Child with backpack © Mareen Fischinger/Westend61/CorbisWhile you’re out there searching for the perfect backpack for your child, the more important consideration than style, size and color should be – what can happen if a dishonest person gets a hold of it? The things your child carries in his or her rucksack can become weapons of your financial destruction if they fall into the wrong hands.

With identity-related crimes at historic levels, the odds are better than ever that a dishonest person will know the basics of taking advantage of the kinds of personally identifiable information, sensitive data (like passwords and credit card numbers) and the many other keys to your household economy that often lurk in your child’s backpack.

Here’s a shortlist of what a relatively creative bad guy might find in your child’s backpack, and what you can do to keep anything bad from happening.

1. A smartphone

While obvious to you (hopefully), does your child understand the serious potential for disaster that a walkabout smartphone can bring to your doorstep?

It can be simple as a scammer dialing 611 and ordering new services. Chances are good that there’s enough information in your child’s backpack for a motivated thief to get your name and thus the keys to your telephonic kingdom.

But there are other identity indignities that can be done. Many people store user name and password information on the Notes app of their phones. The Notes may contain other informational cracks and crevasses as well and open up unsuspecting third parties—relatives and friends—to scams. Email scams, grandparent scams, a just-to-be-a-jerk iTunes or apps shopping spree, malware installation -- so many tasty tidbits to exploit.

What to do: Talk to your kids about the dangers of an unsecured phone and discuss basic data hygiene with them—like what information shouldn’t be on their phones. Have them set strong (think creatively alpha-numeric) passwords, and a Find Me app to erase the contents should the device fall into the wrong hands.

2. A Laptop

You don’t need to be a movie buff to know that a computer is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Most issues associated with a lost phone come to bear here as well. Emails can be sent to relatives or strangers in the service of sucking up money or wreaking havoc.

Beyond the irresistible cornucopia of files that may well be saved on the device, email is a treasure trove of personally identifiable information -- everything from credit card numbers to more digestible data tidbits like name, address, email address and birthdays -- pieces of a puzzle that can be assembled to present a believable story to an unwitting customer service representative and then steal valuable goods and services or used as a fly trap to accumulate even more PII.

Does your child have access to your Netflix account? How about Amazon or iTunes? Where else have they gone in cyberspace that might have their information—or yours? Open social media sites that are set to login automatically afford a wide vista of scamming opportunities to a bad guy.

What to do: Make sure your child gets into the habit of logging out of all their online accounts, and that they don’t store sensitive information on their laptops. Talk to them about the wisdom of not saving user ID and password information (I know, I know, it’s just so darn inefficient to demand security over convenience), and how to make a good one. Finally, have your child set a password -- shared with you -- to protect their device against the wrong person accessing it.

3. Keys and name tags

So, this is pretty straightforward: If your child uses a carabiner to attach his or her keys to their backpack, you’ve got a robbery waiting to happen. Backpacks don’t have to have a nametag with your child’s address and your home phone number to lead a thief to your home. Better to put your office number.

Additionally, there are apps like KeyMe, that allow a fraudster (as well as a person who might want to use the app to avoid unnecessary inconvenience) to make a copy of a key that any locksmith can duplicate.

What to do: Tell your child to keep the keys to your home in their pocket rather than on their back.

4. Gaming device

Playstation Vita is a popular gaming device -- and not the only device that could cause you a world of woe should it fall into the wrong hands -- but we’ll single it out for the sake of illustration.

The good news: Your personally identifiable information is safe even if someone grabs the device, because it’s password-protected and associated with your little gamer’s access to the network.

That doesn’t mean that bad players can’t do some damage. First, and perhaps most terrifying, they can play games and wreck your kid’s sterling reputation in the community. Worse: Whoever has that device can buy games and run up a hefty bill. One-click purchased games are something any malicious third party can rack up in the way of a very expensive just-because crime. (I know, unthinkable among school-aged children.)

What to do: Have your child set a passcode for access to the device and make sure they share it with you.

When it comes to data security, best practices are universal. It’s your job to pass on what your kids need to know to stay safe and keep your family out of the crosshairs in a new data landscape where “getting got” is the third certainty in life. Basic data hygiene is a must. Until our education system catches up with the realities of today’s data-insecure world and best data practices are taught as part of home economics, it’s something we all must do to keep our home sweet home safe

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Aug 7, 2014 12:35PM
Here's an idea. How 'bout not having a ten year old child carry around a smart phone OR a laptop? Ever think of that? What person in their RIGHT MIND would hand a little kid 500 dollars to walk around with- aren't laptops and smart phones about that much?? GUESS WHAT people children do not need these things. All they do is waste a bunch of time- the only thing I ever saw a kid do on a smart phone or a computer was play games on it, non stop for hours. If I caught my kid doing that that smart phone would become a brick in less than a fraction of a second as it hit the wall with great force. NO child should be given password access to any adult accounts including Netflix or anything else. It is stupid to allow that.
Only yuppies and morons let their kids have smart phones or laptops, no kid under 17 needs these. A normal cheap phone is good enough for a kid, get them a tracphone or something for emergencies that won't have anything useful in it.
Aug 7, 2014 2:18PM
If you are stupid enough to send your kid to school with this, then you deserve what you get.  I don't see where these kids need to carry a laptop, an iPad, or a fancy cell phone with them to class.  Get the kid a disposable phone, tell them to keep the electronics at home, and you won't have nearly as much to worry about.  Oh, and don't set your home's security monitors or car's locking device with your cell phone--anyone who gets into that can get to the house or car and clean the thing out before you even have a chance to stop it.
Aug 7, 2014 3:03PM
Why in the world would any of that be in a kids' backpack? Maybe the story was intended to be geared more towards the high school crowd...the child in the picture looks pre-school aged and I know nothing like that would ever be in my 1st grader's backpack because at 6 he has no need to own any of those things!
Aug 7, 2014 2:17PM
Here come 300 comments about kids not having phones and laptops. Update, the world is constantly on computers and schools are expected to teach children accordingly. That doesn't mean that every child does or even should have electronic devices, but it means that some will. This article is for those who do.
Aug 7, 2014 3:26PM
A kid young enough to need security issues explained to him shouldn't be carrying electronics of any kind with him to school, period, end of conversation. (And why is your little snowflake carrying a GAMING DEVICE to school, anyway?)
Aug 7, 2014 2:32PM
Cell phones can be set to be a "child's line" given restricted access, including the ability to change plans and services.  If your child already has open access to download & purchase anything from the PSN, I pity you.  There are adult passwords on children's accounts to ensure they don't make unauthorized purchases.  These instructions are for morons who don't already know how to raise a child in a technologically enhanced world.  Also, all you haters saying kids shouldn't carry laptops/smart phones etc, some SCHOOLS assign laptops and tablets to children!  It is becoming more and more necessary for our children to have access to these items in today's world.  Anyone who doesn't realize this needs to go back to the 80's.  Times are changing.  My 14 yr old gets our hand-me-down phones so this year, right before finishing 8th grade, she got her first Smartphone.  It's entry level, but it enables us to track her through GPS so we know were she is 100% of the time.  Its a matter of safety for us, a family with both working parents.  How is it any different than teens being stuck on the HOUSE phone all night, 30 years ago?  Adding a $10 line to our cell plan is WAY cheaper than turning on a landline so she can call us when she's home alone and needs something.  How unrealistic of most of these commentators!
Aug 7, 2014 3:11PM
This is "Native Advertising" at it's finest..  This is not a real article, it's an ad for made to look like a real article.
Aug 7, 2014 3:00PM
A lot of schools are requiring clear backpacks nowadays.
Aug 8, 2014 10:58AM

I'm trying to figure out how a kid the age of the one in the picture needs a backpack with 20 lbs of crap in it. We had a Big Chief tablet and a pencil and they stayed at the school.

Before anyone tells me about how times have changed, consider this. Want to have some fun ?

Next time someone rings up your sale for oh let's say 8.07, hand the clerk a ten dollar bill and 2 pennies, then watch their eyes glaze over as they try to figure out how to make change.

I've got a 9 year old grandson who turns into a zombie anytime he gets his hands on any electronic device, which is never in my house.

Aug 7, 2014 4:08PM
The Apple I Phone 5s has the finger print touch ID and unless the thief cuts off al of your kid's fingers they will not be able to access the phone. I am not a big Apple fan but this is one thing that does make sense.
Aug 9, 2014 11:10AM
My 7 yo son just attended a day camp at a local college. The class was comprised of 7-12 yo kids. He came home the 2nd day and told me that every single one of them pulled out a device to play on during the 15 snack break every day. He sat alone those days and wondered why no one was talking or interacting with all the new faces around him. My son has an ipad, but it never leaves our home and all purchasing on it is disabled. Same on his laptop (he is home schooled and uses them both for lessons; very few games on these and we do not own any game systems.)
He told me he thought it was sad how they looked and said he "wouldn't feel right" using his ipad for that stuff at school, even on a break. (He and I have discussed how being on a computer changes the way your brain engages the world for a while and how it takes time when one switches back and forth to get your brain at full steam again.) He also mentioned how none of the other kids seemed to really get back into the lessons much after break too. My son placed 2nd in the class and he was the youngest one there by a few months. The device thing is becoming a nightmare.

Aug 8, 2014 4:33PM

Smart phones and the like will be the downfall of our society. People do not speak to each other anymore, they text. Children do not go outside and play. They are shuttered inside glued to some type of electronic devise. If it doesn't require electricity they don't want anything to do with it. If my child needs a tablet or something like that at school, then the school will need to provide it. I am already paying for breakfast and lunch for half the school, why should I be on the hook for a tablet for my kid AND one for the other kids.

If you feel your child needs a phone so you can "stay in touch". Get them a throwaway. That's all I own. It sits in the glove box in case I break down. We survived for a long time without being constantly "connected".  Put down the phones. Talk to people. Look at the world around you instead of hunched over staring at some stupid electronic device.

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