“Sharenting” is defined as: the overuse of social media by parents who share content focusing on their children, such as baby pictures or details of their children’s activities.
Grand-sharenting is the same concept, but with the grandparent being the “sharer” of the information.
Many of us love to upload photos of our loved ones and ourselves on social media. Everyone does it, we enjoy keeping up with our friends and grandkids this way. But every time we post a photo or status update on social media we are allowing the world access to a lot of information about us, information that can be used in harmful ways by scammers and predators.
Barclays Bank UK has forecast that by 2030 “sharenting” will account for two-thirds of identity fraud facing young people over 18, and will cost $860 million per year.
So what’s grand-sharenting all about, and why does it matter to you, and perhaps more importantly, to your loved ones?
We hope this article won’t frighten you off of your favorite social media channels, but instead make you aware of how you can protect yourself and your family online.
First off, be aware that any photo taken on a smartphone contains a lot of data that is embedded in the file. This is known as metadata. This metadata can include the location, date, and time the photo was taken.
According to Barclays, there are three key pieces of information that are used in identity theft: a person’s name, date of birth, and home address.
So, while posting a photo of your house decorated for your grandchild’s birthday party may seem harmless, you are giving away information that can potentially be exploited.
We spoke with Rebecca Herold who has over 25 years of systems engineering, information security, privacy and compliance experience, and has authored 19 books on the subject.
Here is what she thinks you need to know about “grand-sharenting,” what to avoid, and how to protect your right to privacy.
This is an easy one to start with. Vacation posts can be dangerous as it can alert local criminals to the fact that you are not at home and your house is vacant for a home invasion. Using a reverse image search, your house may appear on google maps giving a burglar your exact address.
To avoid being targeted this way, Rebecca suggests that you don’t post vacation photos until you are back from your trip. Make it clear are sharing the photos from home, not from the hotel.
Also don’t share photos of the front of your house or anything that shows a house or apartment number.
Think carefully about commenting about vacations on other people’s posts too, for example, avoid posting on your grandchildren’s wall “enjoy your trip to Aruba.”
I’m not suggesting that you don’t post photos of a happy occasion, but try to be a little vague about the exact birth date of the celebrant. Sometimes birthdays fall on a Wednesday and the party is thrown on a Saturday, if this is the case don’t clear up the confusion.
You don’t need to spell out the actual birth date online nor do you need to write your child’s full name.
Remember identity theft requires date of birth, a person’s name and their address. Writing “Sarah’s Fifth Birthday Party” gives enough information to your friends without revealing the details.
It’s best practice to change the default passwords on all the gadgets your grandchildren use in your home, including smart speakers, the router, an internet-connected toy or location-tracking watch/device.
This makes it much harder to scammers or predators to break into these devices and make contact with your grandchildren.
Grandchildren’s bedrooms or activities
Social media posts that show your grandchildren’s interests can be risky as it may give pedophiles access to a point of connection with the child.
For example, if your grandchild likes horse riding and their bedroom is decorated with ponies, maybe don’t share that particular photo. A predator may reach out to children using this information as a point of connection, “Hey do you like horses? Me too!”
Before the internet, in the early 90’s, kids were told never to wear the popular ‘name necklaces’ as predators could use them to pretend that they knew you. A quick glance at the necklace and a predator could confidently say, “Hey Kathy, your mom sent me to collect you from school today.”
Internet posting is the modern equivalent.
Unsecured Bluetooth connections mean that hackers can gain control of some devices, this can include viewing a sleeping child on a baby camera or talking to them through their toy. Always password protect.
Other things to consider
We do not yet know the lasting impact of sharing children’s information online, but in the UK the Children’s commissioner has raised some interesting questions about internet privacy. For example: Could data about a child’s language development and early educational performance at age four play some role in their college application outcomes? Could posting personal health data affect your grandchild’s ability to take out insurance in future?
Rebecca agrees, “Social media data becomes part of that child’s online biography” she explained. If a child has skipped school to hang with grandma one day it’s not the end of the world, but in the future “colleges may look back at this information to make choices about college applications” she warned.
A lot of parents these days track their child’s every move with smart devices. We understand why, with child abductions hitting the headlines, but as a grandparent you may be able to provide some balance to this discussion, after all this wasn’t available when your kids were growing up and they turned out okay.
If your child insists on tracking your grandchild through their phone/watch, have a conversation with your child about why they feel the need to do this.
Concerns have been raised that collecting personal information from children so regularly normalizes the act of surveillance.
The risk is that children hand over their data so often that they become accustomed to doing so thoughtlessly and without hesitation, failing to question if or why it is needed or how it might be used.
Social media scamming
Rebecca also noted that older people are particularly vulnerable to scams that use your social media information against you. Here are a list of common scams and Rebecca’s tips for avoiding them.
The Grandparent Scam
In this scam, the grandparent receives a call or an email unexpectedly from someone who claims to be their grandchild or sometimes a law enforcement agency calling about their grandchild.
The caller will say that there’s an emergency and will probably ask them to send money immediately with an emphasis on the immediately part.
One of the reasons this scam is successful is because the caller piles the pressure on leaving the person being scammed with little time to think clearly. If you’re wondering why a person would fall for such a scam, let’s circle back to your social media.
It isn’t hard for a scammer to look at your facebook page and discover that you have a grandchild named “John”, they may also discover his date of birth by looking for photos from a birthday party and they may even find the type of car John drives which is useful if they are claiming his car was involved in an accident. These details, widely available for anyone to find, can make the scam seem very real.
If you receive this type of call the best thing to do is hang up and call your grandchild or child directly to confirm the story.
A woman in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, who wishes to remain anonymous, recently gave $3,000 to scammers after receiving this type of call. She didn’t call her daughter to check out the story until after the money had been handed over. Had she taken the time to double check, she could have realized it was a scam.
The scary part about this case is that the scammers actually appeared in person, which is unusual, knocking on her door in broad daylight and taking her cash. They also asked if she had jewelry in the house. The woman is 97 years old. She tried to withdraw even more cash for the scammers, but fortunately the bank became concerned at her unusual withdrawals and put a stop on the account.
Rebecca advises to “take a moment to think. Double check all the information.”
Another scam that uses social media is the romance scam. If you have recently been widowed, it might be wise to keep some of your grieving offline as, sadly, scammers target older men and women who have recently lost a spouse.
The romance scam targets vulnerable people by offering friendship through facebook and ultimately developing the friendship into a romantic relationship.
Rebecca was the expert witness in a case where the scammer targeted a retirement community. “The scammer knew these people were wealthy because this was a well-off community and many of them had nest-eggs. They would write to people via Facebook and claim to be a friend of their deceased spouse, they do this in order to gain your trust before asking for money later on.”
The scammers are not who they say they are and are often chatting online to several men and women at once under various aliases. Common warning signs include the individual telling you they cannot meet in person, they may claim that they are working on an oil rig, in the military or a doctor with an international organization.
After the relationship has been established, they may start asking for money to pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses, pay for surgery or other medical expenses, pay customs fees to retrieve something, pay off gambling debts pay for a visa or other official travel documents.
They will usually ask you to wire money or load money onto gift cards. They do this because they can get cash quickly and remain anonymous. They also know the transactions are almost impossible to reverse. If someone appears in your Facebook inbox and you don’t know them or have any friends in common, delete them.
The third social-media-based scam is the so-called Military/Police scam. This one is most often based on your location as this will become an in-person scam.
Rebecca explained that by accessing your phone number and location from Facebook, the scammer may call you and explain that a crime is currently happening in your neighborhood and they need your help. Perhaps they want to station a police “look-out” in your home, perhaps you “live near the suspect” and they are concerned for your safety. They may advise you to leave your house while the arrest takes place.
All of this is an attempt to find out your exact address and get your out of the house so they can break in. The police, the FBI, the CIA do not need your help, and if they do they will appear at your door with the proper identification.
Things to look out for on Facebook
Not only will scammers comb through your profile page but they may target you in more subtle ways. Do you love those Facebook quizzes?
Me too, but sadly Rebecca explains that they are often set up by scammers looking to gather intel. She also suggest removing your date of birth from your Facebook page, “We all love receiving birthday messages on Facebook” Rebecca lamented, “but it’s just too risky to be worth it.”
Also, have you seen those Facebook posts that people share asking you to comment below with your pet’s name and your first street address? They usually claim that the combination of these words make up your “celebrity name” or the like. These are scams used to collect security question answers. Don’t respond.
Rebecca encourages you to think of internet privacy as a collective family effort. There is no point in you being careful in your posting choices if the other set of grandparents posts everything online.
Rebecca suggests having a chat with your family about this over the Thanksgiving holiday. “This year be thankful for your privacy” she quipped.
Final words of wisdom: change your profiles to private not public, agree on what you can post as a family, and, if you want to see how your grandchild is doing, pick up the phone and call them or meet them for a coffee/play date depending on their age.
It can seem that kids these days are afraid of life offline, but as a grandparent it’s up to you to show them how great life can be with your phone switched off.
Take care out there, social media is a wonderful addition to our lives, just make sure you use it carefully.