Family Computer Crimes

  • September 7, 2012, 4:29 p.m. ET

Family Computer Crimes


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Is your teenager or grandchild putting your financial security at risk online?


While it can be handy to have a tech-savvy younger person in the house, it also can make your financial and personal information less secure. The best and latest antivirus software won’t help much if someone is downloading virus-laden computer games and fake iPad apps for “Fruit Ninja.”

Kids often know the technology better, but they aren’t necessarily more careful when they use it, experts say.

Privacy concerns also can be an issue. A 14-year-old might think nothing of posting on Facebook that his whole family is in Yosemite (hello, local burglars), or that his unemployed uncle was arrested for drunken driving (hello, potential employers). He also might be less concerned about identity theft or whether a crime syndicate will get his Social Security number.

The more computer users there are in your home, the greater the need to take precautions—regardless of their sophistication.

Antivirus Software

Since kids can be cavalier when it comes to downloading, parents need to secure extra-strong antivirus protection.

Several studies conducted by Consumers Union in recent years found a correlation between households with people under age 18 and a larger incidence of computer viruses and other malware. Some 14% of home networks were infected with malware in the second quarter, according to Kindsight Security Labs.

Many households have a computer with several users, or have wireless networks that all share the same router. This increases the risk that the computers will become infected with viruses, which can delete your files; adware, which triggers annoying pop-up windows; and spyware, which can track your keystrokes to steal your passwords, turn on a webcam remotely or cause other mischief.

Crucially, you need to keep your antivirus software up to date and set to run automatically. If you don’t know whether your virus program is up to date, it probably isn’t.

The Microsoft Safety & Security Center has a free security scan, as well as free antivirus and anti-spyware software. If you suspect your computer is infected, disconnect it immediately and get help from an expert.

The most secure option is to keep all your sensitive financial records and irreplaceable documents and photos on a separate computer that only you have access to, and which you connect to the Internet only while transacting business online.

Family Drill

Remind household members of the hazards of downloading apps without first checking them out, or clicking on links in emails supposedly from banks, phone carriers or other entities claiming there is a problem with your account. These are likely to be phishing schemes intended to capture your passwords and personal information.

Newer phishing schemes include emails supposedly from your Internet or email provider warning that you have run out of storage space and will lose your files unless you take action immediately.

Email phishing poses less of a problem for younger people, who generally prefer text over email. Nonetheless, they may be vulnerable to emails warning that their photo was posted on Facebook, and advising them to click on a link to see it or get rid of it.

Wireless Risks

With household members using multiple devices, it’s almost certain they all are connected to the Internet by a single wireless router. If your router isn’t secure, your computer isn’t secure, either.

Make sure it is password-protected. Without a password, neighbors or someone sitting in a car parked near your home can piggyback on your wireless, which can eat up bandwidth and cause your Internet browsing to slow to a crawl.

And remember that your router is like your phone number: It is traceable to you, not the hacker using your connection to cover his tracks, nor someone using it to visit illicit sites.

Many people fail to change the default password on their wireless router. These are readily available on hacker sites, often listed by make and model. If you don’t know whether your wireless system is password-protected, it probably isn’t.

You can find more information on steps to improve online security at the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center and the AARP website.

Write to Ellen E. Schultz at

A version of this article appeared September 8, 2012, on page B9 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Family Computer Crimes.


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