By Mark Fairlie

Parents posting family pictures on their social media could be putting their children at risk of identity theft, online fraud and more warns Barclays.

The term “sharenting” was added to the Collins English Dictionary back in 2016; demonstrating the widespread popularity of this new trend. The term is used to describe when parents share photographs, stories and personal information about their children.

Whilst this practice may seem innocent enough, experts have warned that sharenting can compromise a child’s future financial security, leaving them vulnerable to identity thieves.

The sharenting pandemic

New research carried out by Barclays has found that parents oversharing personal information online could annually cost future generations more than £676 million by 2030.

With over 7.4 million instances of online fraud thought to stem from ‘sharenting’, these will make up more than two-thirds of all identity fraud cases in the UK.

By sharing birthday messages, personal stories and other sensitive information online, parents unwittingly hand over all the information a criminal might need to use the child’s identity – making them ‘fraud targets’, says Barclays.

The same study found that 82% of parents share personal information online, with a further 30% using personal information such as their children’s names in their own passwords.

“Through social media, it has never been easier for fraudsters to gather the key pieces of information required to steal someone’s identity,” said Jodie Gilbert, head of digital safety at Barclays.

Whilst many may think of identity theft as something that only happens to adults, children make the ultimate targets for these scams as it is likely it may be many years before anyone realises. For example, there may be no indication a child’s identity has been stolen until they have their first credit check, by which time it will be too late.

No secret

Some of the most common security questions used to retrieve or change a forgotten password include:

  • What is your mother’s maiden name?
  • What is your middle name?
  • What is the name of the street you grew up on?
  • What city were you born in?
  • What was the name of your first school?
  • What was the name of your first pet?

These are all questions that could potentially be answered by checking a person’s social media and tagged posts; particularly if their parents had documented these ‘firsts’ online when the person was a child.

“Sharenting” putting children at risk of identity theft

Details such as these remain online, so will likely still be available when the children become adults. That means, at the touch of a button, fraudsters could find the answers they need to steal someone’s identity to use for fraudulent loans, credit card transactions and online shopping scams.

Of course, some other secondary authentication questions ask more personal opinion based questions such as a favourite food or film, but even these answers could leave you vulnerable.

According to research from Microsoft, when guessing the security answers of acquaintances with no real knowledge of the person whose account they were hacking, ‘hackers’ were able to guess the correct answer 15% of the time.

And it’s not just children who are at risk from ‘sharenting’. It is common for parents to use children’s names and birthdays as their own passwords for various accounts. Something as simple as a birth announcement, a photograph in a school uniform or a birthday wishes post could give cybercriminals all the information they need to access that parent’s accounts.

Protecting children’s privacy

A report from Ofcom has found that 56% of British parents choose to keep their family photos and videos away from social media. However, a further 42% said they do share photos of their children online, with half of these admitting to posting personal information about their children at least once a month.

Parents are being urged to update their privacy settings on all social media platforms and reducing the number of family details they share online to prevent sensitive and personal information being stolen.

Gilbert added: “Careless online behaviour and insufficient privacy settings can reveal key details about yourself, your friends and your family, it is vital to think before you post and regularly audit social media accounts to prevent information from falling into the hands of fraudsters.”