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STAYING SAFE IN OUR NEW VIRTUAL REALITY

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our way of life and how we go about our daily routines. For many, kitchen and dining room tables have become the new office, classroom or social meeting place. Virtual is the new reality, and while it allows us to continue to work, learn and socialize safely, it comes with its own unique set of challenges and dangers. 

As we transition to using more online platforms, scammers, hackers and other cybercriminals are finding new, lucrative and sometimes dangerous ways to target people. At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, in addition to ensuring the safety of our physical streets, we are also dedicated to protecting our online neighborhoods — especially when it comes to the safety of our children. 

With Broward public schools having begun their year fully remote, kids have had to adapt to extended hours behind their digital devices and the increased risks associated with them. It is important that we protect our children’s ability to learn and play online safely. 

Recently, we’ve seen an increase in phishing scams through email and text messages. Aside from malware, ransomware, spyware and other dangers designed to steal personal information and money, these scams also pose a significant risk to children, who are perfect targets for identity theft because of their clean credit histories. In 2017, more than one million children were victims of identity theft or fraud, and that number continues to grow. 

In addition, with social distancing as the new norm, socialization has turned even more digital than ever before. Parents must pay special attention to who their children are interacting with online and in what manner. Unfortunately, cyberbullying is rampant and has been linked to a variety of negative effects, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse. 

Here are some important reminders on what you can do to help keep your children safe:

  • Always be aware, and monitor what your children are doing on all their devices. 
  • Always keep close tabs on who your child is interacting with online. 
  • Look out for anything that is out of the ordinary, including unusual messages, advertisements and emails. 
  • Keep your firewall, antivirus, antispyware and operating system up to date. 
  • Ensure your child’s social media accounts are set to private and accessible only to pre-approved family and friends. 
  • Make sure your child never gives your home address or location to anyone they meet online.
  • Have a talk with them, and reinforce a basic practice of online safety: think before you click. 

We are living in unprecedented times with unfamiliar threats. But by being vigilant and prudent, we can keep our kids and our community safe from cybercrime. 

Sheriff Gregory Tony