CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Protecting children from COVID-19 exposure could inadvertently open them up to other risks as child advocates warn about an increase in online predators, scammers, and hackers.
“These aren’t normal times,” cautioned Tom Bartholomy, president of the Better Business Bureau of Charlotte.
His office is seeing an increase in reports of hackers targeting home computers and networks, in lieu of larger workplace networks, accessing “anything they can,” Bartholomy said. “Primarily banking information, log-ins and passwords, credit card information.”
Children are particularly susceptible, he adds, citing their potential lapse in updating firewalls and forgetting to upgrade protective measures on the computer.
Bartholomy said children and teens are also more likely to be distracted on the computer, visiting sites that could open a family up to risks.
“When it’s time to learn, stay in that lane,” Bartholomy said.
But he and others know that’s easier said than done. And that curiosity coupled with less parental oversight this school year leaves children at greater risk to be targeted by predators.
“These kids are opening up their computers or their devices and we’re welcoming these people to our homes,” said Joshua Chernikoff, president of Flex One tutoring.
Chernikoff encouraged parents to perform background and reference checks on anyone who could be assisting with school work outside of the typical school setting.
The National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children reports an increase in tips for possible abuse of children over the internet. In May of 2019, there were just over 745,000 reports; in May of 2020, the number more than doubled to 1.68 million.
Callahan Walsh, spokesperson for the NCMEC said parents need to do their homework.
“We’ve seen chatter amongst the dark web by these exploiters looking at COVID as an opportunity a great opportunity to abuse children and to entice them online.”