There are Bad Guys Among Us

Episode 13: There are Bad Guys Among Us

In the last episode, I teased that I would eventually record a podcast about an incident my own child experienced with a stranger in his text messages. Well, here it is.

While playing a game on his phone he struck up a chat conversation with someone (common with online games). The other person in the conversation convinced him to take the conversation to text message.

And that’s where the problem begins.

This episode is focused on the dangers for our kids on the internet, but it applies to everyone. There are some basic things you can do to protect your family, and yourself.


People are the weakest link in any cybersecurity plan. We’re distracted, exhausted and often unmotivated. It’s time to change the approach used to protect our businesses, technology, identity and data, the human element has to be front and center in a war against data breaches and ransomware attacks, it’s time to educate.

Welcome to the human element podcast, visit our website at the human element dotnet for more content to help you strengthen your awareness of the people problem in cybersecurity. I am Scott Gombar, owner and Washtech, a client focused, security minded proactive IT service provider. In the last episode I teased about a story I was going to talk about on another episode. This is more along the lines of children using the internet. So not really the focus of the podcast. But nonetheless, I as a father, I believe it’s important to talk about this, I believe it’s important to address this topic. And I think it’s super important that parents understand the risks that are out there. We live in a world today where where sex trafficking is a big problem where kids are targeted all the time. And we’re not paying attention when you’re letting your children sit on internet connected devices all day long. We’re letting them do whatever they want. And we’re not paying attention to what they’re doing. This is dangerous. And you may not want to see it this way. You know, it’s keeping them out of your hair. While you’re trying to do things around the house, you’re trying to work. Whatever the case may be summers, you know, it’s summertime as I record this, so the kids are not in school. And so we tend to say okay, they’re on their, you know, their PlayStations, their iPads, their x boxes, and we’re not paying any of their computers, we’re not paying any attention to what they’re doing. Very dangerous. This is episode 13 of the human element podcast. I am Scott Gombar, your host. And let’s talk about safety for children on the internet. All right, so I’m going to tell you the story of what happened with my son. Fortunately for him, and for everybody else I got involved before it got too far. So used to play doesn’t play it anymore. My kids, you may remember, during COVID, when everybody was locked up among us, became a very popular game really fast. And so it’s a it’s an online game that you could play from your phone or from your iPad or whatever device you might have. Where I think the premise of the game is kind of like there was a board game. I forget what it was called now. But the board game is where you would try to figure out who the bad guy was you would do a murder was committed, you would try to figure out who committed the murder. So it was a board game many many years ago. Today, there is a game there’s probably more than one game like this. But there’s a game called among us, where the goal is to figure out which person is the bad guy. Now I might, I might be butchering the game a little bit. I have never played it. My kids played it for a little while they’ve lost interest in it so they no longer play. Well among us, like many other games has a chat feature. This is where trouble starts. This is why when I talked to parents and I talked to parents a lot, I encouraged them to monitor their activities on their devices. So my son started a chat conversation with somebody on among us. And very quickly this person said, let’s take this to text message. Does this sound familiar? Because this is exactly what I talked about last week with pig butchering. This is going to be a little more valuable than your bank account. So they have these conversations in among us in the chat and eventually they take it to text messaging. And I always tell my kids, you could chat with people on the games as long as they’re people you know in real life so they’re allowed to talk to people in the game. Is that they know in real life, so they know them through school through their activities, whatever it is. That is it. And I do monitor, I do listen to the conversations I do look at the chats. You know, my son also uses discord. So I monitor that his text messages, all of it. I’m telling you, you need to do this as a dad. And as a cybersecurity professional, you need to monitor these things. So they take the conversation to text message, when they start exchanging texts back and forth, seems very innocent. The other person claims to be a girl about his age.

And that, you know, and that they’re talking about normal, that age type topics, so, preteen kinds of topics. We routinely, my wife and I routinely check his text messages, as I’ve mentioned, and his other messages to make sure there aren’t conversations, you know, we’ve caught conversations where somebody is borderline bullying him, we’ve caught conversations where maybe he’s using somebody’s using inappropriate language, he’s pretty careful about not doing that, whether or not he does that in real life. You know, who knows, we were all kids once. But he’s pretty careful about not doing it where he knows his parents might see it. We check for inappropriate images or, or inappropriate websites and things like that. We’re very careful. Now, the key here is he knows we’re doing this, we tell him, we’re going to check, we want to make sure you’re safe, we’re going in that you’re not seeing things you shouldn’t be seeing. We’re going to check his well aware that we’re going to do this, we’re very closely monitor all of his activities. All off I have, well, one child is an adult child, son, she’s. But the other two, we monitor, and then I have a grandson, when he’s old enough to start exploring the internet world would also monitor. Okay, so I pick up on these text message, just text message string, and it’s an out of state area code. You know, he has family in another state, but didn’t match that state either. So he’s got cousins that live in two other states. But the area code didn’t match those area codes either. So now I’m a little curious. And I start looking through the text messages. And again, the beginning of the text message is very innocent, kid stuff. Nothing to worry about. But as you scroll down there’s an image images of of a younger girl preteen probably very pretty. But also you can see she was professionally made up, the hair was done, she had some makeup on. dressed really nicely. Professional picture, almost like a stock image. Maybe. Now I’m a little concerned, because the very next text message is now get yourself made up and send me a picture. First of all, preteens don’t talk like that. They don’t they don’t know, I’m sorry. I said get a makeover. And then send me a picture. preteens don’t talk like that we preteens don’t care if you have a makeover or not. So now I’m really concerned. So now I know this is not who they claim to be. So I asked him about the conversation and needs he’s honest with me tells me they started in among us and it took it to text message. And I tell him never do that. Please. With kids, if you have kids, you understand it’s an ongoing battle. This is going to be you’re going to have to have the same conversation 1000 times before it finally sinks in, you know, you have to tell your kids clean your room all the time. It never sinks in, brush your teeth. It never sinks in you have to keep reminding them. This is kid stuff. This is what we do as parents we get it. So again, I tell them, you cannot have conversations with people that you’re meeting on a game or on the internet. at all, it just cannot happen not old enough to understand the dangers. You’re not old enough to understand the risks and you’re not old enough to carry on conversations with people you don’t really know. You want to talk to your friends from school on on Madden, I could care less do that. And again, closely monitored. I’m paying attention and know what’s going on. Now I take the image just to make a point to him because he gets a little upset because why am I why am I telling them who to talk to and this and that. So I take the image and I do a reverse image And sure enough, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of the same image all over the internet. So I said, Look, this is a stock image, this person is not who they claim to be. They are trying to get you to carry on a conversation, that will go somewhere that it should, you don’t want it to go ultimately, or, as parents, we don’t want it to go there.

Here’s what is most likely going to happen. You’re going to send images, and before you know it, they’re sending images that are inappropriate. Now, I can tell you, my son will not even go in the pool without wearing a shirt. So probably not going to happen for him. But this is what they’re trying to get these kids to do to send inappropriate images, aka child pornography to someone, this is not who they claim to be. And then use those images or, and or this is beginning of trafficking. So they’re trying to start a conversation, figure out where this child is, and then kidnapping him up, it’s very easy to convince a child to say, here’s where I am. Come get me. You know, not in those words, but this is where I am or, you know, you can with an iPhone, where am I? Where are you, and you send that and then you can send back the geolocation. These are all things that are very dangerous. And these are things that are happening. So we’re adults that are out there are convincing children to send graphic images of themselves. adults that are out there are getting the location of the child in sending someone to, to grab them up. You might call me a helicopter parent. And I’m okay with that. The children do not leave my site when they are home, or when we’re out and about. Yes, they are in camps, you’re not getting into those camps without somebody stopping you. Yes, there. They go to school. I have I do have geolocation on their devices. So I know where they are while they’re in school. And as a matter of fact, there was a time when my son got a little bit too far outside of the school playground area, all fenced in, but he got a little too far for GPs to think he was still at the same location. And I got an alert saying he left school when talking about having a heart attack, because he’s still young, he’s very young, he’s still a preteen shouldn’t be leaving school shouldn’t be talking to people that are not friends with him in person in real life, or family members. And so he’s got a lot of friends. And he’s got a lot of he’s it has a lot of cousins. So there’s a lot of people for him to talk to. There is this thing within children where they want to expand their reach. So they want to have as many friends as possible. They want to talk to as many people they want to be able to say I have friends all over the world, whatever the case may be. And I get that. And I understand that. You know, I was a kid once we didn’t have all these things. When I was a kid. We had the home phone and that was it. You could barely dial to the next town was a home phone back then. There are dangers that lurk on the internet. There are people that collect images of children that are not appropriate. There are people out there that will start children and eventually kidnap them. You know, there was a case in Bridgeport, I haven’t looked it up yet Bridgeport, Connecticut where a 16 year old mother and her five month old are no I’m sorry, I think the girls 1515 year old mother and her five month old child are missing for a week or so now. These are the kinds of things that happen. You know, I don’t I don’t know if that’s what happened here. Nobody knows for sure yet. But these are the kinds of things that happen. Because we are not paying attention to the conversations that are happening on the internet, with our children. I understand that we feel our children should have a sense of privacy. Not when it comes to these things. Understand that, you know, part of the world that I work in, there is a there is a movement understandably, for privacy, but that privacy is there your stuff shouldn’t be on Google or anywhere else on the internet. You know things like your social security number, your driver’s license number, your passport, Id those things your home address. They shouldn’t be on the internet. But they are and not a whole lot we could do it about at this point. Yes, US is. There is a bill that passed the House are ready for a data protection and privacy act for the whole country. So it’s coming and we’ll see what that does. But some states including the one I’m in Canada The kids have very strict privacy laws. I shouldn’t say strict, there are lots of variables. But nonetheless, one of the one of the states with a more strict set of data protection laws.

Our children’s information should not be in on the internet. Now, I’m not going to say I never post pictures of my children to social media, I do occasionally I do not post a lot. I post occasionally, and I’m very kind of careful about what I post locations shouldn’t be shared. For when your children are involved. When I post locations, either I’m there with a child or it’s after the fact. But I think what what’s most important here is that we’re protecting our children, our children are not aware of the dangers that are out on the internet. And they don’t know that there’s guys out there that I shouldn’t say, Guys, there’s people out there that are trying to get these images of children and collect them. There are people out there that are trying to get their location so that they can kidnap them and traffic them. This is not it’s not new by any stretch the trafficking. But it’s become more of an issue as of late. And I think a lot of it is because of the internet. You know, I love technology, I think technology is great. I think if it’s used properly, it’s a wonderful tool. However, if there are there are the evil sides of technology, and that is one of them is easier to track someone now, it is easy to figure out where someone is. And it’s easier to kidnap them. Because of trafficking is a big problem. There are groups out there that are trying to curtail and help find people that have been trafficked. And so it’s a big problem. Another piece of this is you don’t know what information your children are sharing, they could be sharing information about your entire family, you know, hey, I live at this address in this town in this state. Well, now your whole family is at risk. Or, you know, maybe they’re convinced to share private information. You know, kids don’t really understand social security numbers or not that my kids know their social security numbers they don’t, or they don’t really understand, you know, you can’t put your credit card number on on a phone, and then share it with someone else. Take a picture of a credit card number. These are all things that could happen as a result of your children having conversations, they can be easily persuaded. Now my kids are are educated on these things. I tell them all the time, here’s the risks. Here’s the dangers. Here’s why we don’t do this. Here’s why we’re going to check up after you. Here’s why we do what we do. And for the most part, they get in occasionally they push back a little bit, for the most part to get it and yet my son still took this conversation from among us to his text messaging. So now they have his real phone number. They have his real phone number. I got into this conversation as soon as I saw it. And the last note was now you will get a makeover and then send me a picture. And I replied back, no, that is not going to happen. And I blocked the number deleted the entire string. Chances are that we’re not using a real cell phone, they were probably using a browser, they were probably a browser based phone service. There are lots of them out there and very, very cheap at that. You know, I paid one for $10 for the whole year. And chances are they were also anonymizing themselves using a VPN maybe Tor I don’t really know. So blocked it. Again, education told him listen, you can’t do these things you have you got to understand the risks that are involved here. In previous episodes of the human element, I talked about how easy it was to find a home address and a cell phone number. I talked about how people are being scammed out of in some cases millions of dollars of their money through pig butchering, and similar type deal. You get a you get a text message seems innocent enough, you carry the conversation over to WhatsApp and then they eventually scam you out of money by buying cryptocurrency that you’re not really buying you’re it’s you’re you’re they’re tricking you into sending money into an account. That’s not real. A lot of phishing it’s all human element. It’s all social engineering and kids are easier to social engineer because there are they are innocent. They they don’t know the risks that are out there for these things. They don’t understand it at all. They think that life is great, and they have nothing to worry about. And everybody wants to be their friend. No, they don’t they there are people out there there is a an underbelly and undercurrent of people who wished to exploit children?

And so I shared this with you because I want for parents, or anybody who’s taken care of children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, you know anybody, a guardian, anybody who’s taking care of children to understand it’s okay to check your your children’s internet activity, phone activity, and educate them. Let them know you’re doing it. Of course, our children know, sometimes my son gets annoyed when I said, let me see your phone. But he gets it. And that is the the five minutes of him being annoyed versus the alternatives. So much better. So much better. I’ll take it anytime. 10 times out of 10 every day Monday through Sunday. This can happen to adults. Pick butchering is the adult version, you’d start a conversation with someone seems innocent enough. Before you know it, they’ve hooked you romantically. And they’re scamming you out of money. Or they’re, you know, women are also being in probably men, I don’t know. But adults are being trafficked. Adults are being kidnapped, and trafficked. You know how many times now have we seen where authorities have found someone who was missing for months or years. And they were in somebody’s basement chained up. It’s not TV shows, this is Real Life TV shows get this from somewhere. We need to be aware of that element that’s out there. That is dangerous. And if you don’t know the person in real life, and I’ve read this for pig butchering as well, if you don’t know the person in real life, do not carry on a conversation with them, do not give them sensitive information, do not become romantically involved, they’re going to try to scam you do not send them your home address do not. Again, if I really wanted to find your home address, I could find it. And I understand that people do do this professionally. And bad guys do it as well. But don’t make it easier for them. Don’t make it easier for them. Monitor your children’s activities on the Internet, whether it’s computer phone, whatever it is, monitor the activity, make sure the conversations they have are with people that they really know. Make sure they’re not being bullied, because that’s another big topic. So internet bullying is a big cyber bullying is a big, big thing. You know, when I was growing up, the bullying occurred in school or on the way home or on the way to school. And that was the end of it. Today, bullies have access to kids 24/7. With that electronic device, another thing I lock my, my kids phones at night. So once they’re in bed, that’s it their time is limited throughout the day, or any day don’t even use it on school days. But their time is limited. And when it’s bedtime, it’s bedtime devices are locked. In my other child’s case, my youngest is not even in her room. But we have to understand that our kids are not prepared to to understand that side of the world that the dangerous part of the world where people are not who they claim to be, and are and have nefarious purposes for contacting them. And we need to help educate our children and help protect our children. We cannot assume that all their internet activity is safe. It’s not. I’ve discovered a website and anonymous website and I forget the name of it now. But we’re where people can go and have conversation. And allegedly, you know, nobody knows who you’re talking to. I know there’s an app that’s very similar. I’m sure there’s more than one app, actually. But I’m aware of at least one where you can go I want to sit called whisper but I’m not 100% Sure That’s right. Where you can go and have these quote unquote, I’m doing air quotes here. Anonymous conversations. They’re not anonymous. It’s not hard to get enough information to figure out who you are. But the problem with that is, these people are having these conversations and they’re sending pictures back and forth. Guess what? I take that picture, do a reverse search on Google. And I figured out who you are, where you live and all the other relevant information. It’s really that easy. Oh, no, it’s an honest no, it’s not. It’s not you’ve sent a picture of yourself. So I never you know, obviously and by the way, if if they asked you to take a conversation on WhatsApp or any of those any other similar apps,

that’s a red flag in itself. keep our children safe, educate them on the dangers of the internet, and monitor their activity. I’m not telling you don’t allow your kids to play games on the internet. I’m not telling you that. And I’m not telling you that. Everything is dangerous, not everything is dangerous. I get it. There’s kids out there that just want to have fun as kids, they just want to play. But, but there is an element out there that only wants to cause harm, whether it’s getting pictures, elicit pictures from your children, whether it’s trying to kidnap them and traffic down, whatever it may be. They’re out there, do not allow these conversations to take place. That was kind of the dad and me and also the cybersecurity professional in me, the social engineering professional in me that I want for everyone to understand the dangers pre COVID Right before COVID hit and locked everything down. I was supposed to do some of these talks in some of the schools in my area COVID And I actually we’re actually already scheduled COVID came in said nope, not happening. And so here I am sharing it here. I hope it helps. And this this doesn’t just apply to preteens this applies to teenagers. It applies to adults and a lot of cases because adults are falling for similar type of scams. So I hope you found this helpful. This was kind of a personal slash professional podcast today. Not exactly the same type of episodes we’ve done in the past. But we’ll get back to the normal stuff. But I felt this was important. I felt it needed to be shared in this has been weighing on me for a while now because this happened more than a year ago, I think. So stay safe, stay secure and educate, educate. That’s the key. Take care of your family.

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