Digital Kidnapping: Are you putting your child’s identity at risk?

Many parents worry about what their kids are doing online, but have you stopped to consider how your actions impact them? We’re taking a closer look at digital kidnapping. It starts with something innocent and common, but that could be making your child a victim.

Chasing, catching and wrestling. Leland and Dawson are brothers.

"Two rambunctious little boys," is how their mother, Halona Rabbit-Dickinson, describes them.

They give their Brookport, Illinois, parents plenty of opportunities for great pictures they post online for family and friends who live far away.

"We don’t get to see them a whole lot, so that’s how we get to keep up. They get to keep up with the kids," Halona explained.

Recently, they’re rethinking what they post to Facebook and other social media sites after several stories across the country about digital kidnapping.

"There’s so many recent stories of digital kidnapping," dad Joey Dickinson said. "I don’t want to have that happen to my kids’ pictures."

Augusta Nissly with the Family Online Safety Institute offers this simple definition.

"When somebody takes someone else’s photo of their child and uses it for their own purpose," Nissly said.

On Instagram, simply type in #babyrp or #kidrp, the ‘rp’ stands for ‘role playing, and you get unsettling profile after profile of children you can digitally adopt, but that don’t belong to the posters.

"You feel violated when something like that happens," Joey said. "It’s maybe not as dramatic as someone taking your child, but at the same time you’re having something, you feel a loss of innocence."

"It happens and, you know, a lot of the time it’s because the right privacy settings weren’t set," Nissly explained.

"Do you guys even know any other parents that don’t post pictures of their kids online?" I asked Halona and Joey.

After looking at each other with puzzled expressions, the two told me they don’t.

How often do you really share pictures of your children online? The online safety site The Parent Zone found out some startling numbers. On average, parents post 973 photos of their children online before they turn five. Meanwhile, 17 percent of parents admitted they’d never checked Facebook’s privacy settings.

"Facebook has pretty easy to use privacy and security settings," Nissly said.

Halona and Joey are doing their best to know those settings. They keep everything private and are starting to limit the number of pictures of their children they share. They’ve also asked friends and family to not share their children’s pictures from their Facebook pages.

"If one person shares it, then someone that you don’t know on their page may share that picture," Halona said. "So, I mean, it’s like a chain reaction."

These parents are also working to keep up with the times.

"Technology is always changing," Halona said.

It’s all worth it, say Halona and Joey, because their boys are worth doing anything to protect.

You may be wondering, is digital kidnapping illegal? 

It depends on the intent. Paducah Police Detective Justin Hodges says there’s no blanket law that covers digital kidnapping. So, parents need to know their privacy settings on social media sites, as well as talking with friends before they post pictures of your children.

Next Monday night, Local 6’s Robert Bradfield continues our coverage of this issue, looking into the legal options you have if your child were to become a victim of digital kidnapping.

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