With children heading back to school, the NYS Division of Consumer Protection wants parents to be aware of children’s privacy and security. Before shopping this season, parents should also be aware of how to spot back to school scams.

“Back-to-school shopping is the second largest spending event for parents, after the holidays, which makes it critically important for parents to know how to safeguard against scams to protect their privacy and finances,” said Secretary of State Robert J Rodriguez.

“And as more and more schools use technology as a teaching tool, parents should know what information is being obtained from their student and how to protect their children’s identity and privacy. Children should not have to give up their privacy rights just to do their homework. I urge parents to use these tips so students from elementary school to high school stay safe this school year.”

Think about children’s privacy:

The New York State’s Education Law offers parents rights regarding the privacy and security of their child’s personal information and data. NYS law requires each educational agency to publish its Data Privacy and Security Policy to its website.

Educational tech companies cannot require parents and schools to agree to the comprehensive surveillance of children for kids to use those learning tools. Parents and guardians need to place close attention to the technology children use, what information they collect, and how they use it.

Some highlights to know about this law:

  • Your child’s personal information cannot be sold or released for any commercial purposes.
  • If your child is under the age of 18, you have the right to inspect and review the complete contents of your child’s education records.

Pay close attention to your child’s personal information:

  • Protect documents that contain a child’s personal information. Understand where your child’s information is stored. Ask how after-school organizations and sports clubs secure their records. Are digital records connected to the internet and, if so, are they encrypted? Are physical records in locked in filing cabinets? Who has access?
  • Be careful when providing identifying information to after-school activities and sports clubs upon registration. If asked for a Social Security number (SSN), inquire why it is needed. Some organizations include the SSN request as a formality, and it may not be mandatory.
  • Label books, backpacks and lunches with the student’s full name on the inside. Using initials on the outside is okay, but even just first names, on the outside can create an unsafe situation.
  • Discuss internet safety tips with children. Remind them to be careful about opening attachments and suspicious emails.
  • Both parents and students should be careful on all social media platforms: don’t overshare. Avoid sharing personal information including full names, addresses, phone numbers, or even where they go to school. Social media posts often reveal sensitive information unintentionally. Cybercriminals look for content that can reveal answers to security questions used to reset passwords. This makes accounts vulnerable to identity theft.

Avoid back to school shopping scams:

Back-to-school shopping is the second largest spending event for parents. Shopping scams can often start with a fake website, mobile app or, increasingly, a social media ad. This year, smartphone shopping is on the rise. The DCP urges consumers to take note of common scams while shopping.

  • Protect your identity when shopping online. Ensure transactions take place over a secure connection. Make sure the website is secure by identifying a padlock symbol by the URL. Avoid using public Wi-Fi to log in to online accounts.
  • Download retail apps only from trusted sources. Cybercriminals can create apps that look and might even function like legitimate retail apps but are actually malware. Malware can steal your personal and financial information. As well as, send text messages without your knowledge, or even track your location using your phone’s GPS capabilities.
  • Beware of fake ads and websites. Fake websites frequently resemble legitimate sites with credible looking logos, pictures, and payment options. If the website is advertising extremely low prices, or discounts beyond 50 percent, consumers should be wary and diligently verify the legitimacy of the seller.
  • Learn how to spot phishing emails. Scammers may send phishing emails to students and parents saying that they missed a delivery of school supplies. These emails request that the recipients click on a link to reschedule this delivery. That link either floods victims’ computers with malware or sends them to fake websites that request their personal and payment information.
  • Ensure you know who the seller is. Some major retailers allow third party sellers to list items on their site, and those items can be hard to distinguish from the rest. Read all the fine print to ensure you are comfortable with the seller.
  • Use a credit card for online purchases, if possible. Credit cards offer the most protection against fraud, including the right to dispute charges if there are problems with your purchase.
  • Watch out for fake coupons on social media: If the coupon doesn’t come from a recognized coupon distributor, the manufacturer, or a specific store, be wary.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers on product safety, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, excluding State Holidays.

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