CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Countless people share life milestones on social media -- especially this time of the year as kids head back to school. But you could be putting yourself and your family as risk without even knowing it.
One mom wanted to share a proud moment of her little boy, but little did she expect to find his picture on a creepy Instagram site.
It can happen to anyone.
Photographer Andrea Van Wagner recently started an Instagram account, posting professional pictures as well as fun snaps of her boys, including a picture of her 9-year old son Cole after he just won a wrestling tournament.
He had a singlet on, and Van Wagner said he was really proud that he just won. But after the picture went up, she noticed someone using a handle that referenced liking strong boys.
"[They] liked my son's picture and I was like, that's kind of a creepy handle," Van Wagner said.
After requesting to follow the private account, Van Wagner saw several pictures of athletic kids without shirts on.
Van Wagner quickly realized the Instagram page was part of a network of similar accounts.
"They were mostly male that were older and what I could see [in] their stuff a lot of fetish pages and these followers were only following little kid's pages that were obviously under 13," Van Wagner said.
It's a scary and dangerous trend: over-sharing that can lead to digital kidnapping. It can happen on all social media platforms.
"Seemingly harmless information like your child's name, their age, what they look like, where they go to school -- all of that information can be used to create a profile, that a hacker can use down the road for identity theft," Consumer Reports privacy editor Bree Fowler said.
So here are five secrets for parents to prevent digital kidnapping:
- Increase your privacy settings on social media sites
- Make sure you are not friends with people you don't know
- Be mindful of the pictures you post
- Before posting a picture of your child, ask yourself, are they fully dressed?
- And ask yourself, is there room to superimpose or photoshop the picture?
"Even a very innocent photo of your kid naked in the bathtub, might kind of haunt them down the road since nothing on the internet truly goes away," Fowler said.
Another tip -- watch out for hashtags. They can make it easier for predators to find what they want. Experts say the best thing parents can do is stop and think before posting a picture of their kids.