The ‘school photo’ social media trend could leave kids vulnerable to predators: police

As students prepare to return to school this fall, law enforcement officials and online safety experts are reminding parents to be careful about the information they share on social media. It can give criminals access to children and scammers access to personal information.

“We don’t say that Not to share,” Deputy Sheriff Tim Creighton of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office in Woodstock, Illinois, recently told Fox News Digital.

“I still have people in my feeds to this day. They share way too much information.”

“Less is better,” he said. “Your close friends and family know the important details about your children, like the city they live in, the school they go to, their full name. Strangers don’t need to know that.”

Last month, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office shared a viral Facebook photo of Creighton demonstrating exactly what he means. He held up a sign celebrating the first day of school—one that revealed far too much personal information.

“It’s that time of year!” The sheriff’s office captioned the picture.

“Do not give predators, scammers or thieves any information that could be used to harm your children, family or finances.”

Police warning
Parents who share too much on social media could be exposing their children to predators.
McHenry County Sheriff’s Office

The first warning was published on August 8, 2021 – and shared by 135,000 Facebook users.

“It protects the kid, but we did it for the parent too,” Creighton told Fox News Digital in 2021.

“A lot of people have commented [how] They never thought about it… It was an important safety message, crafted in an engaging way.”

Creighton, who is also a school resource officer, told Fox News Digital the viral image was posted publicly and reposted as a reminder to parents and carers to “think before you share.”

“Cybersecurity, Internet passwords, fraud, sex trafficking — there’s a lot,” Creighton has said of the various reasons certain details should be omitted.

Deputy Sheriff Tim Creighton
Oversharing could also lead to identity fraud.
Deputy Sheriff Tim Creighton/McH

The Facebook snap shows Creighton holding a poster titled “My First Day of School.”

The left side shares mock information such as the child’s name, age, class, teacher, and school name. In the image on the right, these personal details are blurred – clearly suggesting that it is unsafe to include these details in an image shared on social media.

Creighton said the following details should be omitted when sharing photos or life updates throughout the school year and beyond: school name, age, teacher name and class, identifying characteristics (height, weight, etc.), and overly personal information such as passwords or answers to security questions.

“This information… can all be used by predators, scammers and anyone else who wants to put your child, family or finances at risk,” the Facebook caption reads.

“Regardless of your privacy settings or your friends list, it’s best to keep personal information online to the bare minimum.”

Deputy Sheriff Tim Creighton
Deputy Sheriff Tim Creighton says scammers could use children’s names and dates of birth in passwords.
Deputy Sheriff Tim Creighton/McH

Often people use their child’s name, date of birth and other information in passwords, Creighton said. Too much disclosure online can result in identity theft.

To reinforce this year’s cyber safety message, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office created a new post in August. It advises parents on what to look out for on their children’s Instagram accounts to ensure privacy.

He shared these tips:

1. Is the account private – and not visible to those who are not approved followers?

2. What is the child’s username? Is there important information revealed?

3. How many followers do the children have and who do they follow? Are they strangers or people they know in real life?

4. Is her profile picture appropriate for her age? Is there important information disclosed? This is visible to the public no matter what.

5. What information does her biography contain? This information is also publicly available.

Donna Rice Hughes is a cyber safety expert and President and CEO of Enough Is Enough, based in Reston, Virginia, a non-profit group that seeks to maximize children’s cyber safety and prevent online exploitation.

Hughes echoed the sheriff’s office’s advice, warning families against excessive sharing (for both children and parents) even when accounts are set to “private.”

“Sharing personally identifiable information about a child on social media can have unintended consequences, including being used by a sexual predator or trafficker to track down or harm a child,” Hughes told Fox News Digital.

“In addition to using privacy controls and parental controls, parents are encouraged to teach their children to be as anonymous as possible in the digital world. [They should] model the same behavior yourself and build an atmosphere of trust and accountability with your child by communicating regularly about device use and online relationships.”

Enough is enough shared a safety message on its website, encouraging families to use parental controls as an extra layer of protection on all internet-enabled devices, including “smartphones, computers, tablets and gaming systems.”

The organization said parents can use parental control tools to do the following:

1. Set filters to block inappropriate content, including pornography.

2. Set up monitoring/accountability tools to track app usage, website visits, emails, messages and other internet activity. The monitoring also provides detailed reports on the child’s online activities.

3. Set time limits.

4. Block inappropriate apps or games.

5. Set up parent-approved friend and player lists to limit who the child can communicate with.

On Sunday, award-winning national tech contributor Kurt Knutsson, aka The CyberGuy, appeared on Fox & Friends Weekend to address “sharing” — the practice of parents sharing photos and videos of their children on social media.

Not only can it hurt them to share too many details about kids and their schools, but Knutsson agreed that sharing too much about birthday parties, soccer games, etc. can cause problems.

“Split [is] This idea that was coined has to do with parents,” Knutsson said. “Big tech really just taught us to just take photos all the time, upload them, share moments of our kids and our whole family’s lives.”

Some parents, Knutsson said, might take sharing “to the extreme,” and many are unaware of the dangers and risks that can be involved.

“On the other hand, you have advertisers using AI software. They profile every person they can get their hands on to be like, ‘Wow, how can we get Rachel? How can we get Rachel’s kids to respond to what we want to sell as advertisers?’” he said.

“We get it… Technology advances and that’s part of life. But then you have the fact that this AI software is now on the black market and dark web where people who are now on the bad side of it use it to profile people and they don’t care how old they are . ”

Knutsson said the software has the ability to get “crazy specific.”

This technology then records, for example, where a person lives or where and when a child goes to sports training.

Knuttson gave these important tips: use antivirus, avoid sharing every moment related to your kids, check social media privacy settings, and ask loved ones to either stop sharing or ask for permission ask before sharing your child’s information and/or photo.

Creighton agreed.

“Even your friends may not have the same privacy settings as you do,” Creighton said, adding that parents should remind their grandparents to review their own privacy settings before re-sharing a post or image.

“They might have pretty strict security settings, but they [might not] – So be careful.” The ‘school photo’ social media trend could leave kids vulnerable to predators: police


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