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More and more, our lives are visible online. Perhaps you're sharing a video from your latest hike or karaoke night with your friends, or seeing Snapchat stories of your teen at their junior prom. Most of us are increasingly comfortable with sharing online, whether it's something as simple as a quick tweet or a tagged video on Instagram, complete with shared location.
But is it possible to be too comfortable and connected? Members of Gen Z—the oldest of whom are 22 this year—are digital natives, who live much of their lives online. This puts them at greater risk for identity theft.
Whether you're a college student who is never without your phone or laptop, or a parent of a high schooler who spends endless hours with friends—and strangers—on their favorite video game, you can't be too careful when it comes to guarding personal information that appears online. Here are five of the biggest risks members of Gen Z could be taking with online actions, and how to reduce their exposure.
1. Sharing Personal Information With Strangers
When you or your child is gaming online, it's easy to start to feel like you know someone. You could be interacting with strangers all over the globe. Multiplayer games and online universes aren't just about on-screen interactions, either. A good headset gives instant opportunity to talk to other players.
Video game conversations can lull you into a sense of complacency about how well you know your fellow players—and you might be tempted to share personal information about your real name, where you live and other parts of your life. This is one way online scammers can learn about you and use that information to steal your identity.
If you're a parent, do you know who your child interacts with online? Pay attention to where your children hang out online. You don't need to interrogate them, but show a friendly interest in what they're doing and how it works, and they might be willing to be open with you.
How to reduce your risk: Don't share personal information with people online. Full stop. While you can enjoy your time meeting interesting people, you don't want to share personal information. Whether it's credit card information, your name or the name of your favorite pet, keep it to yourself. As a parent, make sure you talk to your child about the importance of privacy and keeping personal information to themselves.
2. Using a Debit Card for Online Transactions
Whether you're shopping or upgrading some in-game equipment, there's a good chance you're spending money online. But are you doing all you can to ensure your information is protected as you buy?
One thing you want to watch out for is using your debit card to make these purchases. A debit card puts your own money on the line since purchases typically come directly out of your checking account, and it can take weeks to get your money back if your account is compromised. The last thing you need is your debit card information out there and on the dark web, available to the highest bidder.
How to reduce your risk: A credit card may be a better choice, since the purchase isn't taken directly out of your bank account. And if you suspect fraud on a purchase, you can contact your credit card issuer to initiate a chargeback, which could help you avoid paying for the purchase at all. Also, with a credit card, the scammer won't have access to your bank account information—you can simply cancel the card and get a replacement from the card issuer if your information is compromised.
As a parent, it's important to understand what your children are spending money on, and set clear limits with them. Let them know they need your permission before they make purchases, and limit which apps and websites have access to your payment information.
Parents can limit online purchases to one credit card option to more closely monitor what's being spent. If your child wants to make an online purchase with your credit card, enter the information so you can see exactly which websites have your card information.
But what if you're not comfortable with a credit card, either? The good news is that you have an alternative. Many websites sell gift cards in brick-and-mortar stores. Head over to the local grocery and buy a gift card, and you're set. No need to share your personal payment information at all (though you will have to provide your address if you're having the purchase sent to your house).
3. Taking Online Quizzes
Watch out for online quizzes that claim to help you discover your personality type or other insights about yourself by asking questions about your pets, favorite food or when you were born. It feels harmless to take these quizzes, but some of them can actually gather information that can help fraudsters access your online accounts.
Watch out for quiz games too. Some of these purport to offer you the chance to win prizes or money, but then ask for personal payment information that can be sold later.
How to reduce your risk: Be stingy with your personal information. If you like to take quizzes, make sure your accounts are protected with security questions that aren't related to common items like where you live, what high school you attended and other personal information.
Additionally, avoid quiz games that require a lot of data to play. Don't give out your Social Security number, and see if you can be paid via PayPal instead of giving your bank information.
Parents should be extremely wary of quiz games that require money. Let your child know you're not going to connect your personal payment methods, and speak to them about the dangers of these games.
4. Using Public Wi-Fi for Sensitive Transactions
We like to be connected wherever we go, and we love being able to use free, public Wi-Fi. Whether you're studying for finals at the coffeehouse or you like your kids to have access to online games to keep them occupied while you're shopping or in a meeting, public Wi-Fi can be just what you need.
These unsecured networks can be a haven for scammers and fraudsters, though. When you check your bank balance or complete an online shopping order using a public network, you risk someone intercepting the information.
How to reduce your risk: If you're doing something that requires you to enter a password, or if you're engaged in any type of financial transaction, wait until you're on a secured network. Take care of business at home. Set limits for what your kids can access on their devices while you're in public areas.
5. Not Verifying App Authenticity
Not every app is a good app. In fact, some apps are designed to get as much personal information as possible. Before you download an app or start playing a new game, make sure you know what you're getting into. Verify the app's authenticity.
As a parent, you need to know what your children are downloading. Set up payment controls so that your kids can't download paid apps without getting your permission. Additionally, it's good practice to occasionally check your teen or pre-teen's phone or tablet to see what apps they have.
Shared downloading can be another way to stay on top of things. With shared downloading, you get copy of what your child downloads on your own phone. Set up your family mobile and data plan so that you have these types of controls, allowing you the capability to monitor what's going on.
How to reduce your risk: Check reviews of apps from third-party sources. Make sure you're dealing with apps that are legit. You can also use malware blockers and set up your browser to block unsecure connections. This is good practice for parents too. Before you let your child use a laptop or tablet, make sure you set up a browser with ad blockers and other tools to reduce their chances of seeing (and clicking on) shady apps.
Protect yourself and your family from problems associated with poor online security habits. Not only can you take solid steps to protect your privacy, but you can also get help. Experian's IdentityWorksSM service will monitor what's happening with your identity, including dark web surveillance, so you know when your information is being sold. As a parent, you can set up credit monitoring for your children as well. With the right tools, you can keep an eye on the situation no matter their age.
Staying connected is a vital part of today's world—and just about everyone has online interactions. But you still need to be aware of the risks. By taking steps to protect your privacy and reduce the chance of having your information hijacked, you can game, shop and share in relative safety.