A new, seemingly innocent and fun internet trend could have parents setting their kids up for identity theft.
Ninja groups – generally focused around a theme such as Wine Ninjas, Weed Ninjas or Kid Ninjas – are popping up all over Facebook as a way to spread joy and stay connected during the pandemic. In these ninja groups, people share a photo of themselves or their children, their age, along with some of their favourite things and their address. A ‘ninja’ will then come by and stealthily drop off a package of goodies.
Darren Laur, a retired cop of 30 years who now runs The White Hatter which focuses on internet safety, says he’s gone into a number of the ninja groups under fake profiles to see what he can find and was amazed with the amount of personal information people were posting.
“When I started seeing entry codes into secure buildings, I’m thinking oh my God, what are we doing?” he says, adding that he doesn’t want to sound like a “Karen” or a “Debbie downer” but just wants people to know the risks.
Laur says the No. 1 crime being committed on the internet is identity theft, which he says can be especially detrimental for teens and youths because of their “virgin credit.”
“Based on a lot of the information that these parents are putting into not only these posts, but when you click on the profile – I have enough information if I wanted to apply for a credit card in your child’s name I can now do that,” he says.
Laur says criminals will change the date of birth and have the credit card sent to a post office to make it harder for police to track. Once the criminal has the credit card, they’ll max out the spending limit and never pay it back.
Bobbi Mills first heard of the Ninja groups when she was added to the Wine Ninja group but when she found the Vancouver Island Ninja Kids group she was excited to get involved.
Mills posted a photo of her children, along with some of their likes and dislikes and her address. She says she wasn’t worried about posting her address because she lives “way out there” in Sooke.
“Our name and address is in the phone book so really, I’m not really posting anything that anyone can’t see if they wanted to look it up based on my Facebook name anyway,” she says, adding that her pitbull also gives her a sense of security.
Laur says the comparison to a phone book is something he’s heard before.
“In order to find an address in a phone book, you need the name first and the phone book doesn’t provide any other kind of personal information as to children, hobbies, all that kind of stuff,” he says.
Another worry Laur has, although not as prominent as the potential for identity theft, is the aspect of online predation or exploitation. Laur explains that the more information a predator can obtain about a young person the easier it is to groom them for later on.
Laur suggests starting your own ninja group with people you know in order to keep the information you post to a select few.
For Mills, the positives outweigh the negatives.
“When you take your kid to the door to deliver it, that is the most exciting part because you’re running away and it’s a game,” she says. “But after all of that is over, you’re waiting eagerly for them to post the picture on the group to say thank you … that’s the best part.”