For many of us, social media is just that: social. Humans are inherently social; we are built to engage with one another.  Our kids are no different, making them especially drawn to this element of being online, and it makes sense – the Internet is the easiest and fastest way to communicate, interact, and connect.  But combine our love of communication and connection with risks built into an online world, and it means it is critically important to understand how to engage with social media in a safe way.

We need to instill some basic rules with kids (and adults).  Just like how everyone is taught not to take candy from strangers, the “candy” of today’s world is false connection. These strangers, aka Social Engineers, are real and just as dangerous. When talking to kids about Social Engineers, it’s important to emphasize discernment. Not unlike trusting your intuition when meeting someone new in person, it is crucial to ask the right questions when someone you don’t know initiates contact online.  Take a look at these examples to help prevent social engineering:

  1. Why am I receiving this message?

Let’s say someone sent your child a message on Instagram, asking if they want to be a “brand ambassador”, and the account has sent them a link to sign up. It sounds exciting, but perhaps that is on purpose.  The first question you should teach your kids to ask is, “Why am I getting this message?”.  This is important to help determine if the communication is legitimate or is (more likely) just a way to start a conversation with your child.  You might also ask, as a parent, why would a brand want a child or teenager to represent them?

In this case, the link is likely an access point for phishing, which is a way to hack into accounts to access private information by impersonating or imitating something legitimate. Asking children for personal and family information could enhance a social engineer’s chance to scam the family.

  1. Do I know this person?

It’s important when receiving any contact, be it a friend request or a personal message, to have your child verify that they know this person. If they don’t – easy! Don’t answer this message. If they do know this person, or they know someone else who knows them, then this leads to the next question:

  1. Is this something this person would say?

For instance, if your child’s best friend (or relative) is contacting them on social media and asking about personal information, that’s a possible red flag. Why would they ask something they may already know? One way to determine whether someone you know is the one reaching out is to contact them via another medium – for example, if they sent a Facebook message asking a strange question,  you or your child should call that person to verify that they were the one asking.

Remember, it is possible that an account has been hacked, and therefore compromised, and even legitimate looking messages are false.

Use these three tests to start teaching your kids social engineering prevention.  Kids should know to let a parent or guardian know when they initially receive contact from someone or something they don’t recognize.  It makes sense to want to connect to others, and social media has made it so much more accessible to know and talk to people you might never meet otherwise. However, a Social Engineer preys on exactly that desire. By encouraging your kids to practice some skepticism, they can learn to avoid situations that put their (and your) information at risk!