As summer winds down and parents begin getting their students ready to go back to school, the NYS Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) is providing targeted scam prevention and shopping tips for parents and children ahead of the new school year.
“Back-to-school shopping is the second largest spending event for parents, after the holidays, which makes it critically important for parents to know how to safeguard against scams to protect their privacy and finances,” said Secretary of State Robert J Rodriguez. “And as more and more schools use technology as a teaching tool, parents should know what information is being obtained from their student and how to protect their children’s identity and privacy. Children should not have to give up their privacy rights just to do their homework. I urge parents to use these tips so students from elementary school to high school stay safe this school year.”
Below is some guidance on how to start the new school year safely.
Think About Children’s Privacy:
Under New York State’s Education Law, if you are a parent of a child in the New York State schools, you have rights regarding the privacy and security of your child’s personal information and data. NYS law requires each educational agency to publish its Data Privacy and Security Policy to its website. Technology has become a permanent fixture of the education experience. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a policy statement that put educational technology on notice about children’s privacy. In other words, educational tech companies can’t require parents and schools to agree to the comprehensive surveillance of children for kids to use those learning tools. Thus, parents and guardians need to place close attention to the technology children use, what information they collect, and how they use it.
Some highlights to know about this law:
- Your child’s personal information cannot be sold or released for any commercial purposes.
- If your child is under age 18, you have the right to inspect and review the complete contents of your child’s education records.
- If you have questions about student data, please see information available for parents from The New York State Department of Education.
Other ways to pay close attention to your child’s personal information:
- Protect documents that contain a child’s personal information. Understand where your child’s information is stored. Ask how after-school organizations and sports clubs secure their records: Are digital records connected to the internet and, if so, are they encrypted? Are physical records in locked in filing cabinets? Who has access?
- Be careful when providing identifying information to after-school activities and sports clubs upon registration. If asked for a Social Security number (SSN), inquire why it is needed and insist on using another identifier. Oftentimes organizations include the SSN request as a formality, and it may not be mandatory.
- Only label books, backpacks and lunches with the student’s full name and any other information on the inside! Using initials on the outside is okay, but names, even just first names, on the outside can create an unsafe situation.
- Discuss internet safety tips with children and remind them to be careful about opening attachments and suspicious emails. For tips on how to stay safe online, please see information from this January 2020 Consumer Alert.
- Both parents and students should be careful on all social media platforms: don’t overshare. Any information you post can be seen and utilized by identity thieves. Avoid sharing personal information including full names, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, or even where they go to school. Social media posts often reveal sensitive information unintentionally. Cybercriminals look for content that can reveal answers to security questions used to reset passwords, making accounts vulnerable to identity theft.
Avoid Back to School Shopping Scams:
Back-to-school shopping is the second largest spending event for parents (behind holiday shopping). Often, a shopping scam starts with a fake website, mobile app or, increasingly, a social media ad. This year, smartphone shopping is on the rise as people are on the move again. DCP urges consumers to take note of common scams while shopping. Scammers may try to exploit the back-to-school rush through fraudulent ads or through other forms of solicitations.
- Protect your identity when shopping online: Ensure transactions are conducted over a secure connection. Make sure the website is secure by identifying a padlock symbol by the URL or the https and avoid using public Wi-Fi to log in to online accounts.
- Download retail apps only from trusted sources. Cybercriminals are now creating apps that look and might even function like legitimate retail apps but are actually malware designed to steal your personal and financial information, send text messages without your knowledge, or even track your location using your phone’s GPS capabilities.
- Beware of fake ads and websites: As fraudsters continue to advance in sophistication, fake websites frequently resemble legitimate sites with credible looking logos, pictures, and payment options. If the website is advertising extremely low prices, or discounts beyond 50 percent, consumers should be wary and diligently verify the legitimacy of the seller.
- Learn how to spot phishing emails: Scammers may send phishing emails to students and parents saying that they missed a delivery of school supplies. These emails request that the recipients click on a link to reschedule this delivery. That link either floods victims’ computers with malware or sends them to fake websites that request their personal and payment information.
- Ensure you know who the seller is. Some major retailers allow third party sellers to list items on their site, and those items can be hard to distinguish from the rest. Read all the fine print to ensure you are comfortable with the seller.
- Use a credit card for online purchases, if possible. Credit cards offer the most protection against fraud, including the right to dispute charges if there are problems with your purchase.
- Watch out for fake coupons on social media: If the coupon doesn’t come from a recognized coupon distributor, the manufacturer, or a specific store, be wary.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers on product safety, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time online. For more consumer protection tips, follow the Division on social media at Twitter: @NYSConsumer and Facebook.