Teen Boys at Risk in Webcam Extortion Cases

Head up parents! There are some new crime stats out of the UK that may make you reconsider what kind of risks your teens may encounter online.

The UK National Crime Agency reported this week that cases of webcam extortion for financial gain are up over 100% this year, with 864 reported cases vs. 385 last year, and the year isn’t over yet. We haven’t seen similar statistics reported here in the U.S.

The real eye opener from these numbers (for us) was that in 95% of the reported incidents, the victim was male. The largest population of victims was men aged 21 – 30, but boys between 11 and 20 form a “substantial portion.”

We, and parents we talk to, have assumed that females are more at risk of this type of threat, but these UK statistics tell another story.

The agency implies that normal boy-girl online relationships are not what are driving these numbers. social-media-sleepRather:

  • Professional criminals are posing as available females online in an attempt to lure young men into a relationship
  • Bad actors are posing as gay men online, again attempting to establish an intimate online relationship with a gay man

In either case, the victim is enticed to send a nude video to the perpetrator. The perp then uses the threat of posting that video publicly online, or sending it to the victim’s relatives, friends or even his boss, as a means to extort money.

This isn’t just a UK phenomenon. A Minnesota man was sentenced to 38 years in prison this month after pleading guilty to sextortion in 155 cases involving teenage boys over a four-year period. In some cases he posed as a young girl; in others he claimed to represent a modeling agency.

A spokesperson from the UK’s National Crime Agency describes this as a large global “business” where the bad guys are often overseas and do not feel like they at risk of being caught.

Risk of being exposed or potential financial loss isn’t the only downside here. The UK reports that webcam extortion has led to 4 victims committing suicide.

We didn’t think that catfishing would become a big business, but perhaps it has. The one and only defense against this is to make sure you know, and your teens know – without a shadow of a doubt – who you are talking to online before committing any intimate acts.

 

 

If your teen or tween is active online and you are having trouble keeping up, we can help. We respect your kids’ privacy and give you the tools you need to be a better digital parent. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

 

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

True Story – Why You Should Google Your Kids’ Names

This was a proud week for our family. My oldest graduated from high school and will be heading off to college later this summer. Thankfully his admission to college wasn’t derailed by his online activity or anything else.

I thought I’d share a true story that happened back in early 2013 when we were starting ThirdParent. We were testing some of our processes by running simulations using real people. We were using my son as a subject and one of the first steps is that we Google his name.

Google SERPHe happens to have a fairly common, unisex first name but a very rare last name (for the purposes of this post let’s call him Jessie Stalemate), and I knew for a fact that he was not active on social media, so I didn’t think we’d find much. Much to our surprise, 7 out of the top 10 search results for his exact name were pornography-related. He was 15-years old at the time.

It turns out that an Eastern European porn actress has the exact same name as my son. Yikes. What made the situation even touchier is that the porn results were mostly low quality aggregation sites, and it wasn’t clear at first glance whether they were pictures and video featuring a porn actor named Jessie Stalemate, or collections assembled by a pornography fan named Jessie Stalemate.

By now it’s a given that some college admissions officers and most employers will check you out online at some point in determining what kind of person you are – perhaps before they’ve had the chance to meet you. This was a bad search result in that context. You can imagine some hiring manager doing this search and thinking. “Wow, this kid is really into porn” and moving on to the next candidate.

Googling your teen’s name really is the first step in making sure that his digital footprint is clean, keeping in mind that others will be very quick to form an opinion.

When you do the Google search on your teen, unless he has a unique name, you’ll probably need to add a geographic qualifier. We recommend Googling “Jessie Stalemate”, then “Jessie Stalemate New Jersey”, then “Jessie Stalemate Flemington New Jersey” until you get a result that is mostly your child. If everything is clean, or if you don’t find anything, you’re probably in good shape. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. Google doesn’t index everything, and some social network allow users to hide themselves from search engines. It’s just a starting point on the road to good digital hygiene.

In some situations like this one, there could be a bad actor who has the same name as your child. In other cases, your child may have made a regrettable mistake that made its way online. If either is true, you have some work to do, or you can reach out to us for help. Oh and by the way, we fixed his search results.

 

 

If you are worried that your teen or tween is at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

 

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

How To Be a Teen Social Media Star

There are good reasons and bad reasons for trying to elevate your social media status. Good reasons include (1) wanting to present the best possible image to college admissions officers and future employers, and (2) if you have a side business or special talent and you want to get more exposure in order to make it a career, or at least move in that direction.

A not so good reason is if you want to be internet famous for the sake of fame, especially if you are taking risks in order to garner exposure – risks such as putting too much personal information out there, accepting friend requests from strangers or tolerating cyberbullying because that’s part of the game. We don’t recommend any of that.

If you are looking to up your social media game for legitimate reasons, there are some things that you absolutely should do, and some you should avoid. High quality, appropriately sized images are a must. Catchy headlines on your posts will attract more attention. It’s important to know the best days to post your content, and the optimal times.

Our friends at On Blast Blog put together an infographic titled Everything You Need to Be a Social Media Rock Star. Check it out below:

Social Media Cheat Sheet
Credit: On Blast Blog

Click the link above to see tons of interesting and valuable facts about the most popular social networks.

 

 

The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Do you work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Taylor Swift is a Hero on Tumblr

The chances of Taylor Swift ever seeing this Tumblr post were pretty slim. Taylor’s Tumblr army of fans is huge. The odds of her responding were close to zero, or so you’d think.

taylor-swift-tumblr

NY Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo tweeted about this Tumblr exchange this morning. It looks like it happened yesterday.

 

 

Taylor’s reply:

taylor-swift-tumblr-reply

Is it fake? It doesn’t look like it’s fake as far as I can tell.

Here’s a thought: one of the most famous singers in the world wasn’t to busy, too important or too cool to reach out to someone who is obviously hurting with words of encouragement. Online. On social media. Imagine if the average young person tried half this hard to make just one person’s life a better place?

Great things are possible.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Kids, Teens and Too Much Screen Time

If you’re looking for someone to tell you that it’s a good idea to limit kids’ screen time, you’ll have no problem finding one, or many. In fact, we tell parents all the time that moderation and balance are important when helping plan and manage their children’s digital activity. Steve Jobs famously declared that he didn’t allow his kids to use tablets like the iPad, preferring that they grow up in the analog world.

too-much-screen-time

Is there a credible voice out there for the opposite view? We may have found one.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a high profile and outspoken entrepreneur, author, public speaker and tech investor (@garyvee on Twitter). He wrote a post on Medium this week titled Our Kids Aren’t Using Too Much Tech. They’re Not Using Enough, in which he says that he refuses to put a limit on his children’s screen time. Let’s take a look at where we agree and disagree:

“Children are growing up with technology. We are moving into a futuristic world. I think it’s great, of course. I definitely get a kick out of seeing Xander try to swipe everything. With the changing world, I want to make sure my kids are part of these cultural shifts. I want them to understand the technology they are going to be faced with daily. I especially want them to be up to date with tech since a lot will depend on it: schools, jobs, and even basic interaction with people.”

We somewhat agree – Actually, we agree with all of the points above. We don’t agree however, that making sure your child is aware of and takes advantage of the available technology means that time limits and boundaries are a bad idea. Parents can allow enough time for technology and still put limits in place.

“I know what some of you already saying. You’re saying, “What about getting outdoors? What about physical activities?” Listen. I’m never going to be that dad that says “Get outside and play!”… if your kid really wants to go outside and play football, she will go outside and play football. Technology hasn’t removed that option from her life.”

Again, we agree to a point – The existence of technology is not mutually exclusive from the idea of going outside to play. Reality does come into play, though. As a suburban dad of kids aged 7 – 16, and a house full of technology, I know that the digital siren song is very seducing, and one you are online it is often easier to stay online than to stop and do something else. Online, there are seemingly endless things to do.

In summary, far be it for us to tell Gary V. or anyone else how to parent their kids, but we are going to stick to our longstanding recommendation – that’s it is a good idea for parents to put time limits on kids’ screen time in order to make sure that school and extracurricular demands are being met, and other interests are being developed. Nor do we think that a complete laissez faire attitude can never work. I myself have access to all the technology that I need and I still make time to get outside and play golf, walk the dog and play with the kids. No doubt some children and teens can manage a similar, or better balance.

Some parents might want to take the hands-off route, but we prefer some limits, that can certainly be relaxed as a child’s age and digital maturity progresses.

Have a different thought? Please let us know in the comments.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

Why Teens Should Talk To Parents About What They Do Online

Here’s a novel idea for teens: talk to your parents – honestly – about what you do online.

We talk all the time about parents taking a genuine interest in what their teens are doing online. It’s essential for parents to get up to speed, or at least as close as they can get. Just yesterday we wrote about a recent FOSI study that revealed an interesting data point – the average parent of teens admits to knowing less about technology than their teens do.

teen-internet-talkAs a teen, much of your online activity is probably a mystery to your parents. They might have friended you on Facebook, or know that you like Instagram, but they probably have almost no idea about most of the apps and social media sites you use, and why. If you’re up to no good, you might think this is a good thing.

Well, you shouldn’t be up to no good, online or in person. By that we mean doing really bad things, like cyberbullying, making racist or homophobic comments, threats of physical injury and the like. The things that you put online can be permanent, and follow you around like a dark cloud for years in the future. Just because your parents don’t know that you’re doing bad things online doesn’t make it okay.

As for the not-quite-so-bad-things, your parents probably don’t have any idea about those either – the joking, needling and the stupid-funny things.

There is a third group of online activities – things that are harmless or positive. If your parents don’t know about those, you aren’t doing yourself any favors.

It is a good idea to get them up to speed on what you do online. Here’s why:

They might get off your back – Even if they are not constantly badgering you about it, they probably think you spend way too much time online. If they have some idea of what you’re doing, and some of it is positive, they’ll be less likely to hound you about your online time.

A second opinion – Since what you’re posting online could be there forever, have you thought about how it looks to other people? A parent’s view about your online profiles and what you’re posting could be invaluable. You might not want the first adult who sees the online you to be a college admissions officer or a prospective employer.

They might be able to help – Your parents are ahead of you by 20 – 30 years in terms of life experience. There are times when you’re going to need help either doing something (any idea how I…?) or reacting to something (cyberbullying, identity theft). The help you need might be living under the same roof.

You might get new electronics – If you don’t think you need a new phone or laptop now, you will soon. Your parents have more money than you do. If they have a positive view of what you’re doing with your electronics, they’re more likely to agree to that upgrade when you need it.

Remember that your parents are not the enemy; they are in fact your most loyal supporters. By giving them a real window into what you do online, you can both put them at ease and in some cases make your life a little better.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

44% of Teens Know More About Tech Than Their Parents

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) has their annual conference last week, and as usual they published a large research study regarding families and technology.

FOSI-logoThis year’s flagship report, titled “Parenting in the Digital Age”, has a number of interesting facts, figures and observations, and parents would be well served to check out the full report. We thought we would focus on an element that is of keen interest to us – how parents think about their ability to manage their kids’ online activity.

On the topic of “who knows more”, the study asked parents whether they know more about technology than their kids. Among parents with kids 14 – 17 years old, the results were as follows:

  • 36% of parents claim to know more about technology than their teens
  • 44% admit that their teens know more about technology than they do

If you’re the parent of a teen, that is an interesting starting point for framing the issue, and one that we believe to be all too true – parents are charged with digital parenting and their children are in many circumstances more expert on the subject matter than they are. According to the survey responses, the older the parent, the more likely this is to be true.

When asked how confident parents are in managing teen online activity, around half of parents feel confident in the following areas – activities/risks are ranked from most difficult to easiest:

  • Who my teen interacts with online
  • How much personal information my teen discloses online
  • Websites visited
  • Online games played
  • Apps used and mobile games played
  • Amount of time spent online

The most difficult things to monitor and manage – who your teen is talking to online and the amount of personal information he is divulging – are perhaps the most critical in him staying safe.

There is no shame in admitting that you are behind your teens in terms of tech savvy. That’s where ThirdParent comes in. After enrolling with us, you’ll have an easy to use roadmap of where your teen has established public identities online, and what behaviors may be unsafe or inappropriate. We do the work of getting you up to speed. You can sign up today.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

What’s Worse Than Teen Sexting?

The news headlines have been brimming lately with reports of the police getting involved after evidence surfaces that teens have been sexting. Such evidence often shows up at schools, and since school officials are very wary of dealing with possible crimes (child pornography), it’s a pretty straightforward response to refer the incident and students on to the local police.

Our position on teen sexting cases has been consistent (for cases where the sexting is consensual and minors are of the age of consent):

  • Teen sexting is a bad idea. We say this not on moral grounds – we leave that up to parents – but rather because the range of outcomes for all participants is almost exclusively negative
  • Child pornography laws as written are dreadfully behind the times. They weren’t crafted at a time when consensual teen sexting was “a thing”
  • Teens who voluntarily take and send a sext to a partner should not be prosecuted under such laws
  • Parents, not police or schools, should deal with consensual teen sexting issues

Thankfully, of late the courts have pursued few if any such cases to the full extent of the law. That may change, but for the most part, courts and police have used good judgment and stopped short of throwing the book at teens who are caught sexting.

snapchatAn incident in Mauldin South Carolina this month, related to sexting but certainly not the same, has resulted in two Mauldin High School seniors being suspended from school and football, and facing criminal charges, after one of them allegedly took a picture of another player’s nude butt and sent it via Snapchat. The recipient then allegedly sent the picture to a number of people via text message, and the whole thing has gotten thoroughly out of control.

The teens have been charged with aggravated voyeurism, which carries with it a fine of $500 – $5,000 and up to 10 years behind bars. The courts’ reaction to this case could be very different than would be the case for a straightforward sexting incident.

The key is that the picture was taken without the subject/victim’s knowledge or permission. That is invasive, and while the teens in this case claim to have done it as a joke, that might not matter.

If the prosecutor or judge here decides that this was a serious invasion of privacy, without the victim’s knowledge and against his  wishes, and that the intent was to humiliate or harm him, chances are this case will not be swept under the rug.

We agree that the boys were probably joking, and hope that this case is resolved quietly, but this we’d like to use this as a stern warning for parents. Of course, talk to your teens about the risks of sexting, but also be sure to warn them that there are some acts (even jokes!) that may be viewed by the courts as being much more serious than plain old sexting. This may be one of them.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

Your Teen’s Social Media is a Moving Target

New research this month from Wall Street firm Piper Jaffray highlights why it is so difficult for parents to stay on top of what their teens are doing online – it keeps changing. The semi annual Piper survey, titled Taking Stock With Teens, was conducted this summer and took the pulse of 7,200 teens with an average age of 16, and was not limited to their social media habits but that’s what we’ll focus on here.

The results in summary form:

 

Source: Piper Jaffray Research
Source: Piper Jaffray Research

Our thoughts on the results:

Instagram – The photo-based social network takes over the top spot from Facebook, and is used by 76% of teens, up from 69% in the Spring survey. These days, it’s all about pictures for many teens (note: Snapchat and other messaging apps were not included in the survey). Not surprisingly, the same survey showed that 67% of teens surveyed own an iPhone (great camera), and 73% expect their next phone to be an iPhone. Selfies are hot.

Twitter – Twitter was the second most mentioned social network, used by 59% of teens. In our opinion, Twitter is popular with three distinct groups:

  • Athletes, who use Twitter to follow sports and athletes and to reach college recruiters
  • Kids who have a lot to say, and use Twitter as a megaphone
  • Kids who are very into news and current events. Twitter remains the best real-time search engine, and a great place to hear the thoughts of news makers

Facebook – This is a shocker, as has been noted by lots of folks this week. Only 45% of teens surveyed use Facebook, down from 72% in the Spring survey. Our take is that for many teens, Facebook has too many adults, too many family members and too many ads.

“Don’t Use Social Networks” – 8% percent of teens report not using any social networks, up from zero in the Spring. Are some kids getting tired of being constantly connected? I’ve never actually met one of these, but if you have one living in your house, please let us know.

In summary, if you’re the parent of a teen, there is a greater than 45% chance that he has an account on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and probably a few other social networks. Friending him on Facebook will not give you a true indication if what he is doing online. A year from now, a similar survey will probably reveal very different results. If you want to get a clear look at what is going on, you can sign up for ThirdParent today.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

ThirdParent Adds New Teen Intern Focused on Cyberbullying

We are pleased to announce the newest addition to the ThirdParent team. Taylor Stewart of Danville, Kentucky joins us in the capacity of intern and teen cyberbullying specialist.

tylor-stewart-thirdparentThe story of how we found Taylor can be found in a post we wrote earlier this month, titled Interview with Feel-Good Anonymous High Scholl Tweeter @BCHSAnonymous – in which we told her heartwarming story.

At the time we wrote it, the true identity of the Twitter account’s owner was still a mystery. The Good Samaritan has since been revealed to be high school senior (just graduated!) Taylor Stewart. After we published our account, Taylor reached out to us and told us that she was interested in continuing to have a positive impact against cyberbullying, and asked if we would be willing to have her join the team. We gladly agreed, and she is on board as of this week. Taylor’s bio:

Taylor is the newest addition to the ThirdParent team, joining in 2014. As an internet-obsessed teenager, Taylor provides parents and professionals a young adult’s perspective on all things cyber. She works to promote safe and responsible internet behavior and is an advocate for anti-cyberbullying and online positivity.Taylor will attend Western Kentucky University as an Honors College student and major in Family and Consumer Sciences Education. After graduation, she plans to teach at the high school level. Outside of ThirdParent and her anti-bullying activities, Taylor enjoys music, reading, and traveling.

At ThirdParent we spend a lot of time and effort developing resources for parents related to cyberbullying. While schools and sometimes law enforcement play a role after the fact in cyberbullying cases, we believe that parents are on the front line in ensuring that it doesn’t happen in the first place. What better way for us to have a more profound impact than to have an actual teen and student voice as part of our team?

The @BCHSAnonymous account at Boyle County High School has recently been passed on to another anonymous student, but its spirit and positive impact will continue to be a fixture in the school.

Welcome aboard Taylor.

Have a question for Taylor? You can contact her here.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.