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Cybercrime can be frightful, and everyone - including your children - can fall victim.

What happens in October? What event features tales of sinister creatures masking their identity, and includes warnings for you and your kids to stay vigilant of strangers? No, not Halloween.

If you guessed National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCAM), you're right. Although it happens to land in the same month as Halloween, the horrors caused by its monsters can last a lifetime. Cybercrime can be frightful, and everyone — including your children — can fall victim. Garlic and holy water won't keep these financial vampires away, but if you're proactive, you can keep from being bitten.

Take it from me. I've worked at OnPoint Community Credit Union for two decades, and even I've been targeted by scammers on my personal accounts. I've had to work with credit card companies to block rogue charges and even freeze my own credit. If I can be a target, anyone can. Take guidance from my personal and professional experience with fraud and you'll be able to lower your risk of exposure to cybercrimes.

This Halloween season, avoid haunted credit and save your bank account from an early grave by savoring the treat of cybersecurity awareness. To get started, here are some of the many tricks to be aware of:

• Fan sites and social media: Kids who are celebrity-obsessed may find themselves on fan sites or social media accounts that are run by fraudsters. What to watch for? Fake sites often show up deep into search results, may have poor spelling and grammar, and may inundate you with pop-up messages. On Facebook, you can look for a checkmark icon that verifies it's an official celebrity page.

• Videos: Kids love popular video-sharing sites like Youtube. So do scammers. They'll use these sites to spread malicious links and deceptive ads that include phrases like "make a new friend," or "find out who has a crush on you," or "...who's talking about you."

• Freebies: Free music or ringtone downloads, free games, or freebies of any kind are a huge red flag. Scammers will create downloads that play to the latest trends among teens and kids.

• ID theft: More than one million kids were the victims of ID theft in 2017. Kids who share too much personal information online can have their identities' stolen. Fraudsters also use the dark web and black market to get personal data, buying a kid's social security number for less than the cost of a Happy Meal!

You likely take steps to protect your kids from strangers, dangerous drivers and too much candy on Halloween. You should apply the same vigilance to their cybersecurity every day of the year. Here are five ways to keep your children safe online:

1. Educate. Keep yourself up to date on the latest scams and regularly share that information with your kids. Also make sure they're aware of best practices for passwords: Don't use the same password on all sites and never share them with friends.

2. Restrict. Newer models of smartphones often provide child-safety controls. You can limit their screen time, create a list of approved apps they can use, and block offensive content or apps you want to keep off limits.

3. Oversee. Promote good digital habits by being involved. Keep your computer in an open area so you can monitor what they're accessing. Also consider engaging with them in cyberspace. Can you play an online game together that allows you to connect with your kids while also teaching them about threats?

4. Track. Review not only your credit report every year, but also check if your kid has a credit report too. Warning signs that your child's identity has been stolen include pre-approved credit card offers in their name and other "adult" mail. Consider having freezing your child's credit until they actually need it.

5. Respond. If the worst does happen, act quickly. Change your and your children's passwords, contact creditors and financial institutions, freeze your credit, place fraud alerts with any of the major credit reporting bureaus, and file a report with local law enforcement or the FTC.

These are just some of the ways to protect your children and yourself from cybercrimes. For a comprehensive guide to your personal cybersecurity, OnPoint Community Credit Union has released a free eBook, "The OnPoint Guide to Personal Cybersecurity," that shares in-depth and actionable information so you can protect yourself and recover from fraud.

Check it out — and you'll be able to enjoy Halloween's ghosts and goblins while keeping the online ghouls at bay.

Ed Bonilla is Beaverton Valley branch manager and vice president of OnPoint Community Credit Union.


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