Tag Archives: child

Child identity theft is on the rise — here are the signs and ways to stay safe

Although it sounds like something that happens in movies and not in real life, identity theft is sadly a very real problem. And it can happen to our children, too.

New research from a US-based advisory firm reports that almost 1,25 million children have fallen victim to identity theft and identity fraud in 2021, costing their families on average more than $1,100 in damages. The scale of the issue is growing under the increasing influence of social media, remote learning, and digital purchases in our lives.

According to the findings, over half of all cases of identity theft and fraud in 2021 involved children aged 9 or younger; 70% of all victims knew the perpetrators to some degree.

Still, not all is lost. The firm also identifies the behaviors that put children more at risk, how to protect them, and what to do when our children become targeted.

Name thieves

“Javelin has been analyzing identity theft and fraud trends for nearly two decades, making us uniquely qualified to shed light on its growing impact on children,” said Jacob Jegher, President of Javelin Strategy & Research, the company that carried out the research. “We are therefore providing a complimentary resource of insights and guidance to families as they navigate the perils of social media and the digital world.”

“One of the most eye-opening findings from our research was just how much risk children are exposed to when they are not supervised online. Add to that nearly 90% of the households with internet access say they have children on social media, and the picture our findings paint quickly becomes dark, grim, and scary,” adds Tracy Kitten, Director of Fraud & Security at Javelin Strategy & Research, who carried out the research. “Predators and cybercriminals lurk in the wings of all social media platforms, waiting for the moment to prey on overly trusting minors who may not fully understand safe online behavior.”

According to the US Federal Trade Commission, child identity theft involves someone fraudulently using the identity of a minor in various (often damaging) ways. For example, although it is illegal for anyone under 16 to apply for a loan, very few companies verify the age of an applicant against legal documentation. A child’s identity could be used to apply for such a loan, saddling them with paying the sum back. Other nefarious ways in which the identity of minors has been used include applying for credit cards or government benefits.

Minors are enticing targets for identity theft because they don’t have credit scores, outstanding credit cards, or any other type of credit history. This means their identities can be valuable for people looking to meddle with financial products. In such cases, victims only learn that their identity has been nefariously used only later in life, for example, by failing a background check when trying to get their first job.

Children on Twitch (31%), Twitter (30%), and Facebook (25%) were the most likely to have their personal information exposed during a security breach, the study explains. Relatively new platforms such as TikTok also represent a security risk, but its magnitude is not yet known due to a lack of long-term data.

Here are some ideas that Javelin advances regarding how to protect your child from identity theft:

  1. Freeze their credit.
  2. Never share their social security number online, or in person, unless it’s for a good reason.
  3. Limit the number of accounts and services opened in their name.
  4. Limt what your child (and yourself) share on social media, especially anything containing links.
  5. Secure your child’s mobile device; use protection software for their device and computer.
  6. Ensure that physical documents are kept safe and private.
  7. Teach children to keep their information private.
  8. Get some kind of identity theft protection service.

Signs that someone is using your child’s personal information illicitly include:

  • Being denied government benefits like healthcare because the child’s Social Security number is already in use.
  • You are contacted concerning an overdue bill of your child, but you don’t recognize the account.
  • Receiving a letter from the IRS that your child has not paid their income taxes. This would happen if someone used your child’s Social Security number on tax forms or job applications.
  • Your child being denied a student loan because of bad credit.

Our world is increasingly more digitized and interconnected. Children are especially vulnerable targets of identity theft because they lack the life experience to identify and navigate the situations that put them at risk, making them easy targets. Their identities are also valuable as they are a blank slate, fiscally speaking, putting them even more at risk.

As parents, it falls to us to protect our children until they are able to protect themselves. Hopefully, the pointers here give you a good foundation and the tools to notice when something isn’t sitting right.

Children as young as 4 use ‘cognitive aids’ to simplify thinking

Our tendency to use external aids to simplify thinking or calculations — a process known as “cognitive offloading” — has its roots in early youth.

Image credits Esi Grünhagen.

A new paper from The University of Queensland (UQ) reports that children as old as 4 will use external aids for cognitive offloading if available. The harder a task is, the paper adds, the more likely an individual is to use these aids.

A little help can’t hurt

“We often use cognitive offloading to simplify some tasks, such as turning to calendars to remind ourselves of upcoming events or calculators when confronted with difficult mathematical problems,” says Kristy Armitage, a Ph.D. candidate at the UQ School of Psychology.

Adults, she explains, show “remarkable flexibility” in this area: they tend to rely on internal processing but will offload the work onto external aids in situations of high demand. The way this tendency develops, however, and how we use this process as we grow up is still poorly understood.

The study focused on children aged 4 to 11 who were given a series of mental rotation tasks — they were asked to imagine the movement of a given object. They could either think of the answer themselves or use a turntable the team provided to solve the problem without using cognitive resources.

Children of all ages used the turntable more frequently as the tasks got harder, the team explains. This shows that we have an early inclination towards offloading mental tasks. Armitage explains that many kids resorted to it “even in situations where it was redundant, offering no benefit to performance.”

In this experiment it was a turntable but calendars, notepads, apps, and many other things serve as cognitive aids. By over-relying on external aids as children, we hopefully better understand when their use is actually warranted by the time we’re grown up.

“With increasing age, children became better at differentiating between situations where the external strategy was beneficial and where it was redundant, showing a similar flexibility to that demonstrated by adults,” Armitage explains.

“These results show how humans gradually calibrate their cognitive offloading strategies throughout childhood and thereby uncover the developmental origins of this central facet of intelligence.”

The paper “Developmental origins of cognitive offloading” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Child movie

Gas released by human body could indicate a movie’s age rating

Child movie

Credit: Pixabay.

The motion picture content rating system is meant to classify films by how suitable they are for various audiences, particularly regarding things like sex, violence, substance abuse, or other types of mature content. Typically, most ratings around the world carry age recommendations, but these can be highly subjective in some cases — and this is where a new study comes in.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany found a measurable criterion for determining the age ratings of movies. Their study suggests that concentrations of isoprene inside a movie theater — a gas released when people are nervous and tense — can be a good indicator for age ratings.

The smell of tension

In Germany, age ratings are classified by the Voluntary Self Regulation of the Movie Industry (FSK) committee, which examines the content of every motion picture available in the country. For instance, movies such as Harry PotterStar Wars and Dracula are only suitable for viewers aged 6, 12, 16 or 18 respectively, according to the FSK rating.

Being scientists, the Max Planck researchers thought of a more objective method for rating a movie’s suitability for various audiences. During 135 screenings of 11 different movies, they installed highly sensitive mass spectrometers in the cinema’s ventilation system. The device is capable of tracking changes in the air composition at the parts per trillion (ppt) level. Every 30 seconds, the team analyzed the concentration of 60 different compounds.

The chemical that peaked their interest was isoprene, which is formed in the human body by metabolic processes and is stored in the muscle tissue. Whenever we move or tense, trace quantities are released through the expired air via the circulatory system.

“Evidently, we involuntarily squirm back and forth on our cinema seat or tense our muscles when we become nervous or excited,” Jonathan Williams, leader researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, said in a statement.

The authors reported in the journal PLoS ONE that for a variety of movie genre and age groups, the isoprene levels reliably correlated with the age rating determined by the industry body.

“Isoprene appears to be a good indicator of emotional tension within a group,” Williams said. “Our approach could therefore provide an objective criterion for deciding how movies should be classified.”

The new method could prove useful in determining the age rating of a movie in disputed movies — it’s not always clear-cut which rating works best. It could also become a useful tool for tracking how age classification standards change over time.

Williams has another idea, too. He and colleagues plan to investigate correlations between other chemical compounds and other human emotional states, not just tension. Whether specific emotions leave traces in the air is the subject of another study in the future, which will require more controlled laboratory conditions.

Sudden infant death syndrome linked to a rare genetic mutation

A group of researchers discovered a new, important genetic mutation, associated with the breathing muscles, that is implicated in cot deaths. They believe future research will find a way to prevent such tragedies.

Via Pixabay/RitaE

“Previously the whole focus of trying to understand it was either the heart or the brain cells controlling breathing,” said Professor Michael Hanna of the MRC Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases at University College London, one of the authors of the new paper published in The Lancet.

Professor Hanna said that researchers now want to investigate all the other genes associated with the breathing muscles that may be implicated in cot deaths and see what role they are playing.

The newly discovered genetic mutation causes a dysfunction in the management of low oxygen levels in the infant’s blood, researchers said.  It alters the shape of a “sodium pump” that maintains an electric current to stimulate muscle contraction.

“I think the evidence is pretty compelling that some cases of SIDS are caused by sodium channel mutations,” said Prof. Hanna.
“There must be a vulnerability, and what we’re saying is that in some cases, the sodium channel is rendering them vulnerable,” he explained.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), is also known as crib death because the seemingly healthy infants often die in their cribs during sleep. The affected babies are less than a year old. These tragic events are rare, about 300 such unexpected deaths happening in the UK every year and 2,400 in the US.

Doctors recommend to lay the babies on their back and not their front, not to smoke near them and not to share a bed with them. Time has proven that these measures reduce the risks of cot deaths, but scientists have never understood why such horrible events happened. Previous research has described one other genetic mutation in a heart gene which may play a part in SIDS.

In this new paper, researchers studied the cases of 278 children who died unexpectedly and were diagnosed with SIDS – 84 from the UK and 194 from the US. After sequencing their genome, scientists compared them with the ones of adults with no cardiovascular, neurological or respiratory diseases.

Next, researchers looked at the prevalence of the SCN4A gene that codes for a cell surface receptor found on top of breathing muscular cells. At birth, the expression of this surface receptor is low, gradually increasing during the first two years of life.

Scientists observed that the rare mutation was found in four of the children previously diagnosed with SIDS, and in none of the adults. Even though the figure may not seem relevant to you, researchers say it is highly significant because it is normally found in fewer than five people in every 100,000. The research team believes that this mutation could affect children’s breathing muscles, making them weaker. Infants are most vulnerable when sleeping in the wrong position or tangled in the bedclothes.

“In the population we studied, the evidence is strong that it is at the very least a risk factor in those cases that had it [the genetic mutation],” said Hanna. “It certainly doesn’t explain the majority of Sids,” he concluded.

Luckily, in the future, researchers will be able to find all the genes implicated in triggering SIDS and develop a method to fight this dreadful syndrome.

Taking fish oil and probiotics during pregnancy may reduce food allergies

Taking a fish oil capsule daily during pregnancy and the first few months of breastfeeding can reduce your baby’s risk of egg allergy by 30%, a new study has found.

Via Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures

Researchers from the department of medicine at Imperial College London say that omega-3, a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in fish oil, has positive, anti-inflammatory effects.

According to a 2014 study, the lifetime self-reported prevalence of common food allergies in Europe ranged from 0.1 to 6.0%. In the UK, one in 20 children suffers from food allergies, such as nut, egg, milk or wheat allergies. Food allergies are caused by chaotic functioning of the immune system, that overreacts to some types of foods. Common symptoms of food allergies include rashes, swelling, vomiting, and wheezing.

For the study we’re discussing today, the team looked at data collected from 19 trials of fish oil supplements taken during pregnancy, involving a total of 15,000 participants. They report that the reduction in allergy risk equated to 31 fewer cases of egg allergy per 1,000 children. Afterward, they also analyzed the effect of probiotic supplements taken during pregnancy and discovered a 22% reduction in the risk of eczema development in children up to the age of three.

“Our research suggests probiotic and fish oil supplements may reduce a child’s risk of developing an allergic condition, and these findings need to be considered when guidelines for pregnant women are updated,” says Dr. Robert Boyle, lead author of the research.

The NHS advises that it’s better to eat fish than take fish oil supplements, fish being an excellent source of nutrients that are good for pregnant women‘s health and for their unborn baby’s development. The main reason for this is that eating liver and liver products such as liver pâté, liver sausage or fish liver oil supplements such as cod liver oil may contain too much vitamin A, and that can harm unborn babies. The NHS also recommends that tuna and oily fish consumption should be limited, while some types of fish should be avoided completely, such as shark. Also, don’t eat raw shellfish when pregnant, as it can cause food poisoning.

Avoiding foods such as nuts, dairy, and eggs during pregnancy made no difference to a child’s allergy risk. Also, fruit, vegetables, and vitamins seemed to have no repercussion on allergy risk either, the study published in the journal PLOS Medicine showed.

Childbirth can make women’s cells age faster than smoking or obesity

We all know that pregnancy and childbirth change women’s minds and bodies. A new study has found that women who give birth can age very fast, genetically speaking. But how?

Via Pixabay/marvelmozhko

Researchers collected DNA data from 1,505 different women from the US, with ages ranging from twenty to forty-four and discovered that having children significantly altered genetic markers of aging — telomeres, to be exact.

Telomeres are repetitive DNA fragments found at each end of the chromosomes, which protects them from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. At birth, our telomeres are long, but with each cell replication, telomeres grow shorter. Thus, telomere length decreases from birth to death and is considered a marker of aging. Shorter telomeres are correlated with outcomes like cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline. Another cause of telomere shortening is stress,

Epidemiologist Anna Pollack from George Mason University and her team analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) – one of the largest cross-sectional studies charting the wellness of people in the US.

Researchers analyzed data collected between the years 1999–2002, a period in which the survey included telomere measurements, and discovered something unsettling.

Once the team had adjusted for things like age, ethnicity, education, and smoking status, they discovered that women who had given birth to at least one child had telomeres that were 4.2 percent shorter on average than those of women who had not borne children.

Researchers explain that this percentage translates to around 11 years of rapid cellular aging. Compared to smoking (a cost of 4.6 years of cellular aging) and obesity (8.8 years), motherhood seems to be the champion of accelerated  DNA aging.

The study also revealed that the more children you have, the more your telomeres shrink.

“We found that women who had five or more children had even shorter telomeres compared to those who had none, and relatively shorter relative to those who had one, two, three or four, even,” Pollack told Newsweek.

The authors attributed telomere shortening to the stress accompanying having children, but they are not yet entirely sure of the cause. This study was purely observational, showing only a correlation between the two.

A 2016 study that analyzed telomere size in Mayan communities in Guatemala found that women in the community that had more surviving children had longer telomeres, suggesting that having children could actually protect women from cellular aging. Researchers believe that Mayan communities give more social support to their mothers than the US does — a great deal of stress being involved in the upbringing of the US kids.

“Anecdotally, just chatting with my friends who have children, we all do feel that having kids has aged us,” Pollack said to Newsweek. “But scientifically, this does fit with what we understand pretty well. We know that having kids is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. And some large studies have linked telomere length to mortality risk and risks of other major diseases.”

Of course, having a child doesn’t mean you literally age 11 years. The authors write that their dataset lacked information on social factors, stress and fertility status, which may help explain these findings. With only two other previous studies regarding this matter being published, this paper‘s findings should be interpreted with caution, the authors warn.

Children no longer connected with nature

Just 1 out of 5 children in Britain are still connected to nature, and there’s no reason to believe that things lie any differently in the western world.

What does ‘connected to nature’ mean?

rpsb

Saying that someone is or isn’t connected to nature, at an intuitive level, is often times fairly simple. But making that statement scientifically is an entirely different thing; in order to do this, RPSB, a charity organization in the UK launched a three year project, and came up with a definition for connection to nature. They then developed a questionnaire with 16 statements designed to assess the level of connection among children and set up a “realistic and achievable” value for what it means to be connected to nature. Some 1,200 children from across the UK were asked to fill in the questionnaire.

The three-year project found that only 21% of children aged 8-12 were “connected to nature”. They also interviewed parents, and found that in many cases, a perception among some adults that nature is dangerous or dirty could be holding children back.

The relationship between nature and children has been studied a lot in the past years, and some researchers claim that the lack of such a connection impedes education and can even cause health problems – they even coined a term for it: “nature deficit disorder”, though it is not recognised as a medical condition.

Girls beat boys, urban beats rural

nature-deficit_600p

There was quite a significant gender difference: 27% of girls were at or above the “realistic and achievable” target, but only 16% of boys managed to reach the same level.

“We need to understand these differences,” Sue Armstrong-Brown, head of conservation at the charity, told BBC News. “Whether boys and girls are scoring differently on different questions, are girls more empathetic to nature than boys for instance? We need to analyse the data to find that out.”

Interestingly enough, the average score for large cities was significantly higher than for smaller cities or rural areas, contrary to what intuition says. According to researchers, the attitude of their parents is the main driver in this case.

“There is definitely an attitude out there, in some cases, that nature is not perceived as interesting or engaging. In some cases it is perceived as a dirty or unsafe thing, and that’s an attitude that won’t help a young person climb a tree.”

The UK government has shown some interest in the study, and researchers hope that connection to nature can be take into consideration when estimating a person’s well being – not only children, but adults as well.

“If we can grow a generation of children that have a connection to nature and do feel a sense of oneness with it, we then have the force for the future that can save nature and stop us living in a world where nature is declining,” she said.