There has been a rise in chain mail style posts circulating on social media via say Instagram Direct Message or Facebook Messenger, particularly amongst teenagers.
Whilst innocent enough at first glance, one message in particular makes a threat that if your child does not pass it on, they will see a dead girl in their bedroom.
To put this into perspective, imagine your daughter opens this message received from a trusted close friend just before going to bed, and like most 13 year olds she has a vivid imagination … Let’s just say that this mum and daughter did not get much sleep that particular night.
This recent real life example raised a host of questions about chain mail and sent me off investigating the potential dangers, and what I found was somewhat alarming and definitely worth sharing.
Chain letters are messages sent to a huge number of people, asking each recipient to forward them to as many other people as they can. While some of them can be amusing or sent for fun by the original sender, others may carry hidden threats to your internet security – viruses, phishing attempts, etc. Generally, the letters are so well written that they actually look authentic and convince you to take the action suggested. They are designed to take advantage of people’s feelings, be it their greed, their superstitions and above all, their ignorance.
However, in today’s fast moving technological society, chain mails are no longer being sent via email only. With the rise of social media, and the increasing number of mobile users, cyber crooks have turned their attention to these means of communication thanks to their capacity to generate more victims. So, nowadays, a chain letter may take the form of an email, an instant message, a posting on a friend’s social network profile or a text message.
The main security and privacy threats posed by chain letters include:
Email spam. Letters sent out by spammers may not be great threats to your internet security, but they may impose on your privacy and that of your friends. Spammers may use chain letters to collect new email addresses and send out advertisements for their products and services – often times, of questionable quality.
Online fraud. If a chain letter asks you to donate money for charity, the money actually ends up in fraudsters’ accounts.
Identity theft. Petitions in chain letters spell phishing attacks. Your personal data may be taken and used by fraudsters to perform illicit actions on your behalf. Both your internet security and your physical security can be threatened.
Virus infections. Chain letters may come with attachments – interesting Power Point presentations, or links to apparently safe sites. But once you open an attachment or click on a link, your internet security may be jeopardised by malware and phishing sites.
Negative impact on children. Some of them can be really scary to children – and include death threats.
My recommendation is to teach your kids how to recognise chain mail and what threats they pose, as this can go a long way in protecting your peace of mind, your internet security and your kids’ emotional wellbeing.
So parents, please talk to your kids about junk posts and help them understand that if they are scared of the threat, then perhaps sharing such rubbish with their friends is not really being a friend at all.
Teach them that junk is junk and should be deleted, not passed on to terrorise their friends or jeopardise everyone’s privacy, safety and computer security … That way us mums and dads can get a good night’s sleep!