FBI warns families about toys that risk ‘identity fraud’

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning parents about internet-connected toys, which can enable opportunities for child identity fraud.

The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center recently issued a notice to consumers about privacy and safety concerns associated with smart toys and other children's entertainment devices that connect to the internet. These concerns stem from the facts that such toys can collect personal information and access the internet.

Smart toys are able to collect personal information because they generally feature technology such as:

  • Sensors
  • Microphones
  • Cameras
  • Data storage
  • Speech recognition
  • GPS options

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For example, toys with microphones potentially could record not just a child's voice interactions with the toy, but also other conversations that happen near the toy. The FBI explains:

"Information such as the child's name, school, likes and dislikes, and activities may be disclosed through normal conversation with the toy or in the surrounding environment."

Additionally, personal information is generally requested when you set up a user account for a smart toy. This can include:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Pictures
  • Address

From there, smart-toy companies collect "large amounts of additional data," the FBI says, noting:

"The exposure of such information could create opportunities for child identity fraud. Additionally, the potential misuse of sensitive data such as GPS location information, visual identifiers from pictures or videos, and known interests to garner trust from a child could present exploitation risks."

RELATED: Here are some useful ways to protect your identity:

Seven Ways to Protect Your Identity
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Seven Ways to Protect Your Identity
Identity theft typically surges during the holidays as shoppers slap down their plastic more often in stores and make more purchases online.

Perhaps the worst part about identity theft is that victims often don't know what's happened until substantial damage to their credit score or their savings has been done. Here are seven ways to prevent identity theft from ruining your holidays.
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Just like semi-annual teeth cleanings, consumers should make a point to check their credit score on a regular basis.

You can get a free credit report every 12 months from each of the major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. To request a report, go to annualcreditreport.com. Look for any questionable accounts like a credit card or a car loan that you never signed up for and contact the credit bureaus immediately to report them.
Consumers should be just as vigilant about combing through their monthly credit-card statements. Besides confirming that you weren't accidentally charged twice for a purchase, pay close attention to small credit-card charges. Identity thieves will often charge a very small amount, like $1, to verify that the credit card works.

Ask the credit cards' customer service department to set up an alert to notify you of suspicious charges in the future. These alerts are typically free.
For online shoppers, some credit-card issuers offer single-use credit-card numbers that only work for one online transaction.

MasterCard also offers SecureCode, which prompts credit-card holders to input a code -- just like a PIN -- that's only known by the user and the issuer to finalize a purchase at participating retailers.
Using the web to do your holiday shopping is fast and convenient -- but it's also a prime opportunity for identity thieves to hack into your personal information. To protect against such online nuisances, install the latest virus protection software, and put a firewall in place for computers with a high-speed Internet connection.

Another simple security measure: Before clicking the "Buy Now" button, make sure the URL of the web site you're shopping on begins with "https://" and there's a locked padlock on the page.
A thief who steals a debit card can wipe out an entire bank account -- and the victim will have little to no way of retrieving that cash.

Credit cards, on the other hand, have certain consumer protections in place. Most credit-card issuers, for example, won't hold the consumer liable for charges made while the credit card was stolen, says Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Think twice before taking a phone call with someone claiming to be your lender or a possible employer. It could easily be an identity thief trying to gain access to your personal information.

The only time a consumer should give any of their personal information is if they're contacting the lender. Should you receive a call, ask the caller for his or her name, title, department and phone number. Then call the company's general phone number and ask if the person works there and if their statements about your account are valid.
While identity thieves may be more tech-savvy than they used to be, the old-fashioned method of gathering personal information -- sorting through a stranger's garbage - hasn't entirely gone out of vogue.

To prevent your trash from divulging your identity, start shredding anything with your name, address, account number and birth date. That includes credit-card applications, blank checks, bills and any other documents with personal information.

The FBI offers a lot of tips to help you reduce such risks. First, do your homework on internet-connected toys. For example, you should research:

  • Any known reported security issues.
  • The toy's security measures for connecting to the internet and to other devices.
  • If your toys can receive updates and security patches. If they can, ensure your toys are running on the most updated versions and any available patches are implemented.
  • Where user data is stored — by the manufacturer or third-party services — and how it is protected.

In addition, carefully read disclosures and privacy policies from the manufacturer and any third parties.

Then, be aware of how smart toys are used by your household. For example:

  • Connect toys only to trusted, secured Wi-Fi networks.
  • Provide as little personal information as possible when setting up user accounts.
  • Use strong, unique login passwords for user accounts.
  • Use a password or PIN when connecting the toy to another device via Bluetooth.
  • Closely monitor children's activity, such as conversations, with the toys.
  • Ensure the toy is turned off when not in use.

How do you feel about internet-connected toys? Sound off below or over on our Facebook page.

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