How to Protect Your Child’s Identity on Social Media

by Screen Time Team on 20/02/2019
Impersonation used to be a difficult thing to pull off. Now, anybody with access to a social media site and an email account can pretend to be you, or, more often, your teen. If your teen finds somebody impersonating them online, here's what to do.
Teenage girl taking a selfie with her phone.

Impersonation And Identity Theft

There are two distinct issues here. Identity theft, as it’s commonly discussed, is stealing documents such as credit cards, Social Security numbers, and other identifiers used by stores and financial institutions and making transactions or decisions in your name. 

Impersonation is opening a profile in someone else’s name, usually taking pictures of them either from their social media profile or from public sources such as school websites, and pretending to be them on the internet.

This distinction is important because identity theft is a crime, while impersonation may not be. There’s no specific law stating that it’s illegal to pretend to be someone else, fictional or real, on social media or elsewhere on the internet. It’s not even illegal to access someone else’s social media profile under certain circumstances, such as if you accidentally leave your social media profile open in a public place. 

This limits the options of law enforcement, although if the impersonation is used to commit another crime, such as fraud by soliciting donations, for example, they may have more latitude.

However, impersonation is against the terms of service of most social media platforms, and you can take decisive steps against it. You can start with the basics like built-in iPhone parental controls, but you can and should do more.G

Teenage boy in a classroom.

Stopping Social Media Impersonation

  • Gather any information you can about the profile, including what email was used to register it. This is often visible in the main profile page or the “About Me” page.
  • Screenshot the profile and any relevant comments or data. Keep the screenshots separate.
  • Do not engage with the profile. Especially in the case of bullies, this will only fuel the flames. Discourage friends and family from engaging as well.
  • Report the impersonation in the social media site’s “Help Center” or Customer Support page. This is a common problem on social media, and there will likely be a step-by-step procedure to report profiles considered “abusive” or “hostile.” You may also be able to chat with a customer representative directly.
  • Block the profile from your personal accounts and make sure your family does the same.
  • If you haven’t already, limit access to both your and your children’s profiles. If possible, track where they got data, such as personal photos, and remove or protect it from being downloaded.

Once this is addressed, sit down with your child and help them process their emotions. Impersonation happens for a number of reasons, but the most common is pranking or bullying. More likely than not the impersonator is somebody your child knows. Do not press them or demand they tell you anything. Let them discuss the issue at their own pace.

Social media has enabled some wonderful things, but it can also open the door to the strange and devious side of human nature. Working with your children to understand and prevent that will help them get through these issues. To learn more about cyberbullying and how parental control apps like Screen Time can help,  try it for free.

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How to Protect Your Child's Identity on Social Media
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How to Protect Your Child's Identity on Social Media
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Here's how to protect your child online.
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Screen Time
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