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Friday, June 14, 2013

Does 'The Bling Ring' Have Something To Teach Us About Online Security?

Just some more Hollywood sensationalism, or can we actually learn a thing or two from entertainment based in reality?

The Bling Ring*, premiering in theaters on June 21st, is based on the true story of an infamous group of teens who went on an unprecedented celebrity burglary spree. They stole valuable items like Rolex watches and one-of-a-kind designer dresses from the homes of celebrities including Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan and Rachel Bilson. The teens stole more than $2 million of jewelry from Paris Hilton alone. In total, the group stole more than $3 million in clothing and accessories. This fashionable, club-hopping crew, nicknamed the Bling Ring, planned their intrusions in part by using publicly accessible information they found on social media sites.

This certainly was not the first time criminals have used the wealth of personal information available on social networks to their advantage, and it definitely won’t be the last. Crimes committed with the help of social networking sites range from cyber-stalking to robbery. The good news is that there are a few simple precautions you can take to help prevent this from happening to you (even if you don’t have $2 million of jewelry lying around). Here are a few tips to help keep you and your family from becoming victims. 
  • Privacy is Good: Privacy settings are there for a reason. Thanks to privacy settings, you can make sure your status updates are only available to "friends" on Facebook and you can "lock" your tweets on Twitter. Help your kids navigate the privacy settings on different social media networks, as the policies vary from site to site. It is also important to remember that privacy settings often change, so you should periodically check to see that your posts are still secure. 
  • Do I Know You? Privacy settings are only useful if you also monitor who your online friends are. Remind your kids that they should not make their personal information available to strangers, and that they should only approve friends who they know and trust in real life. 
  • TMI (Too Much Information): The members of the Bling Ring used social media to check up on their victims’ schedules. When the celebrities posted about where they were going (and, most importantly, when they would be away from home) the teens knew which times were most opportune for burglarizing. Posting about your specific whereabouts on a social networking website is usually not a good idea. When you post a status that says "Going away to the beach for a week, " you have just provided a helpful hint to a potential burglar. 
  • Emotional Security:  Social media isn’t only used by criminals; it is also used by bullies as a way to easily harass victims. In fact, according to a study of more than 2,000 teenagers, 87 percent of teens who reported being bullied said they were targeted on Facebook.  Online bullying can be a serious problem for children and teens, and has even led to suicide in extreme cases. Talk to your children about bullying and remind them that they can come to you if they’ve been threatened through social media. Make sure your children know that online bullying is not harmless, and can have serious consequences; it can even be punishable by law.
Setting aside its entertainment value, The Bling Ring serves as a reminder for how social networking sites can be dangerous, and why users should be careful about what they post. When used carelessly, social media networks can quickly become goldmines for predators, criminals and dangerously fashionable teens everywhere.
*This movie is Rated R and is not suitable for young children. We advise parents watch the movie first, prior to teenage viewing. Rated R means no one under 17 is admitted without an adult guardian. 
Written by Brian Jones and Edited by Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International

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