Blog Post

For Kids, (Virtual) Identity Theft is All Too Real

[qi:002] Jack Myers posted a rather long article this morning chronicling the trials of a 13-year-old girl who recently had her avatar stolen in the casual anime-styled MMO Gaia Online. While it’s true that there are now virtual characters with virtual possessions that translate into real dollars, the article sensationalizes a problem that is hardly new. The scam is known as phishing, and it remains one of the surest ways to part a fool with his password.

But the dynamics do change when there are kids involved. Although companies warn all players against giving out their passwords, minors who go on to get scammed present a special PR problem. No one wants unhappy kids complaining on message boards and, even worse, to the press, and companies will have to start going the extra mile to ensure greater security measures in user accounts.

When it comes to protecting you from your own gullibility, exactly how much responsibility lies with the company? Well, when we’re talking about kids — little people whom we don’t allow voting rights or legal independence — then the company, I’m afraid, bears infinite responsibility, especially in the eyes of the parents who are allowing their kids to play.

There is a psychological aspect to all of this as well. Virtual spaces are also real spaces, and real things happen in them. Real feelings get hurt. Julian Dibbell famously demonstrated this in his seminal essay, “A Rape in Cyberspace.”

What happened to the girl who had her Gaia Online avatar stolen felt like theft because it was theft, and she went through feelings of violation similar to real-life theft victims. The emotional attachment to virtual spaces intensifies the need for companies to court children as players very, very carefully.

7 Responses to “For Kids, (Virtual) Identity Theft is All Too Real”

  1. Phishing is a definite problem for adults and kids. I think that no one is really immune to phishing attacks, like the little girl experienced, as the Net is filled with loopholes and other technical disadvantages that can lead to phishing.

    I often hear that if I have my firewall and anti virus turned on and monitoring in the background I will be safe. I know for a fact that this is just a drop in the sea when it comes to identity theft and phishing attacks.

    In U.S. alone the number of children that become victims of identtiy theft is around 500,000. Half a million of children get their identity stolen, and often this leads to a negative credit score way before they hit the “ripe” age of 18. Horrible!

    What’s more important most identity theft victims, especially children, are used by their family members who steal their identity to pay off bills or pay for booze.

    In the end, I think that education is key for children. They teach about finances and sex education at schools. I think that they should start teaching about the dangers of online “vegetation” and the detrimental effects of carelessness which can lead to white collar crimes like identity theft.

    All the best,

    Radek M. Gadek

  2. I personally experienced real life identity theft, and virtual identity theft is just as painful as you can imaging. Many people has realize that now. As Idetity truth has said that there are companies that are actively prevent identity theft and even some companies does actively prevent kid’s identity theft.

  3. Identity theft or fraud is really alarming, we must be careful with this. There are many ways how the thieves took your identity and use it for whatever they want it. They can also take your properties and money through this. A very alarming situation..

  4. Have you looked into the proactive identity theft packages out there? A lot of time companies will give people who have had their identities compromised these packages in an effort to deter future crimes.

  5. Paul Lewis, go classes… Take a case of recent Jokela massacre in relatively calm Finland, with youngster publishing video call for kill with word “massacre” plain text and it was NOT caught by YouTube/Google not even notified Finnish police (and Google has office in .fi), while they publicly collaborate with music&video labels & burn millions on pain-in-that-ass with video raw analysis to find IPR legal issues… You can “construe” whatever, but the guy had shut himself down and 8 other people, mostly kids – and you talk your quasi-legal gibberish. Law is completely outdated system which does not PREVENT what can be prevented with simple common sense. Please find another tribune, where morons actually get gathered for lecture…

  6. To incite racial hatred or rape someone is a crime, and if you were to upload a video promoting death and martydom on to youtube this could be construed to be inciteful. In the same way traditional broadcast media can be used for propaganda, false information broadcast agross the border, for example in syria from Israel could be considered a war crime in the international courts.

    The internet (or www) is, as you say, a facilitator to perform information crime faster, cheaper, quicker. Exactly the same rationale that businesses use to make things more efficient. They are just the same types of crime just done in a different way. The majority of e-cime which is brought to court in the UK is prosecuted under laws which have been in existance longer than the internet has been around. In my view, the internet, as with most technology, is benign it is human whom use it for good or bad purposes.