Early September: the time of year when social media is filled with pictures of smiling children wearing impeccable uniforms on the first day of the new school year.
This week, more than half – 53 percent – of parents in the UK plan to share snapshots of their young people at their doorsteps when they leave for school, attracting comments such as: Aw, so cute & # 39 ; and & # 39; How time passes. & # 39;
However, when four-year-old Lucy Lewis begins the reception this week, her mother Nicola will not publish any photographs of this key moment.
When Lucy was only two years old, she was harassed by a stranger who collected all the happy snapshots of the family that Nicola had published online, and republished them in more than ten fake accounts of social networks, interspersed with shots of a pornographic model of the same name.
The experts revealed the dangers that many parents are unaware of when they post pictures of their children on social networks. Gemma Hawkins, 31, (pictured with her children Lilly and Teddy) remembers the impact of discovering images of her son being used without her permission on Instagram
Nicola's mother, 33, of Bromley, Kent, says: "I used to post photos of Lucy in a new dress or playing with her toys on my Twitter account, which only had about 200 followers, including many friends and relatives.
"Then, one day I received a notification that a complete stranger was sending my photos again on Twitter, and when I looked, this person's feed was full of them." He could not tell who it was, since the profile picture was a character of cartoon, the location was Canada, and they used strange invented names.
"When I sent a message asking why this person was using my child's image in such a disturbing way, they never responded."
Panicked, Nicola, who works as an artist, blocked the account only to find more messages appeared during the following month, both on Twitter and Facebook, and some used their son as the main image, until finally had to call the police .
Nicola says: "You think:" There are billions of pictures of children out there, why would anyone care less about me? "But then it happens to you." It was scary, I felt like I was constantly being watched.
However, despite the risks of attracting the interest of pedophiles (horribly, often they are pictures of children in school uniforms more interested), swindlers and even thieves, this week the parents of the United Kingdom will add millions of images to the 1,300 million that they publish in the social networks every year.
A third of them, which often reveals the schools children attend (using badges and logos) and even clues about addresses, such as the door number, will be shared in accounts that are not private, according to new research published by the cyber security company McAfee.
And this week, it was very clear how many cross the web with dark intentions. In a speech to technological giants, Interior Minister Sajid Javid revealed that there are at least 80,000 active pedophiles in the United Kingdom on social media. A crop of new and fresh photos marked with hashtags like # firstdayofschool2018 (that only on Instagram brings 2.5 million images) gives pedophiles a new library of images to comb.
Gemma says she received more than 100 friend requests a day on Instagram from strangers who had images of child pornography on their accounts. She says nothing happened when she reported the problem to the social media platform (file image)
According to security expert Will Geddes, the author of Parent Alert! How to keep your children safe Online, many parents have no idea how their perfectly innocent image of precious family memories can be used in disturbing ways.
One of the ways in which photos can be abused is "deep falsification," in which normal images of childhood are manipulated so that a child's head overlaps the naked body of another person or adult pornographic images. They are then uploaded and shared through pedophile sites.
Millions more collected from the social media accounts of the parents are not manipulated at all. However, the scary comments from users make it clear that their interest is not healthy.
Mom-of-two, Gemma Hawkins, from the southeast, was shocked to discover how the photos of her eight-year-old son were being used without her knowledge. As a result of their experience, the only Gemma people, 31, will share photos of Teddy and his six-year-old sister Lilly with their parents.
How common is identity fraud?
Identity fraud in Britain hit a record 174,523 incidents last year, up 125 percent from 2007
Gemma says: "I always thought I was careful, I published photos on Instagram, but I kept my settings private, but then, in January, I received a friend request from a model promotion page and I accepted that I was naive, but in At that moment I thought he was harmless.
"Not once did I send them photos of my son or give them permission to use their images.
"But a few days later, I started receiving more than 100 friend requests per day from men I did not know." When I clicked on the images in the profile, there were no faces, but images of child pornography.
& # 39; Then I saw pictures of my son in the modeling promotion account. From my diet, and without my permission, they had taken a picture of him playing on a swing and also playing with paint, so he had to take off his shirt.
"There were comments like" Handsome Lad "and" Good looking boy. "I felt sick.
"I sent a message to the account to ask them to download the photos and they ignored me.
Will Geddes warns that photos with school badges can lead predators to the exact location of a child (archive footage)
"I reported to Instagram and they did nothing, so I closed my account, I feel terrible, I failed Teddy because it's my job as a mother to protect him.
"It really opened my eyes to how easily pictures of children can be stolen and misused."
However, it is often the pictures of children in school uniforms that most interest pedophiles, a taste fostered by the easy access to the large number of publicly available pornographic sites with titles like School Uniform Porn, with young people disguised as students.
A quick look through recent court reports on pedophile cases illustrates how many ask victims to send pictures of themselves in their school uniforms as they prepare them.
Will Geddes says that parents should also take into account the ease with which school badges on jackets, sweatshirts and backpacks can take predators to the exact location of their child.
"An undesirable person is given the opportunity to think," Oh, that's where that child goes to school. "While it's more likely that only images circulate, I do not think he can rule out the risk of developing a disease. in the child or school. "
In the vast majority of cases, parents will never have the slightest idea of how their children's images are used for the sexual gratification of predators, says Will.
Alexandra Neil, 32, found a profile with more than 30 stolen photos of her children. The owner of the profile simulated that the images were of their own children (file image)
The police have to prioritize the investigation of images that show that children are actively abused and do not have time to track parents when they find images of children in uniform.
Alexandra Neil, 32, of southwestern London, is another mother of two who was surprised to discover more than 30 photos of her children stolen from her Instagram account.
"Two weeks ago, I received a private message from one of my followers saying that I had seen some pictures of my children posted on another page, under the name of another woman, pretending they were theirs."
While they used the real names of the children, the legends were different and the woman said that she expected to see them.
Alexandra said: "The page had been created a few weeks before and already had almost 400 followers.
"It was extremely scary, especially because the profile was false, there was no evidence that this woman existed in real life, I told them to stop, but I never heard again and eventually Instagram deleted the account last week. wanting to put my life and my family out there & # 39;
Experts say not only posting photos reveals someone's location, but also can open families to crimes like theft (file image)
While Alexandra could never figure out why the page was created, another possible reason for stealing photos for children is the disturbing rise in so-called "baby role-playing" pages on the Internet, in which Instagram users create an fictional fiction. live using images of other people's children.
But beyond the sexual or fantasy uses of such snapshots, experts also point out that "first day of school" images open up their family to crimes such as theft.
Consumer safety expert Pete Turner, of the cybersecurity firm Avast, says: "First of all, they give away the school a child attends.
"Secondly, publishing that photo online probably reveals the family's address," said Dr. Spencer, who is currently working on the issue of the family. "Current smartphones include location trackers, which applications such as Instagram and Facebook use to determine someone's location.
"Most of the time, people give permission to these applications to track them when they sign up for the service, often without realizing it." Then, in a couple of clicks, the two places where a child spends most of their time To a lesser extent, it could also help a thief to approach the hours of morning or afternoon routines, such as school careers. "
The images at the door of the house could even put your child at risk of fraud in the future, according to an investigation by Barclays Bank, because they provide valuable information that fraudsters can exploit.
Barclays Bank estimates that, by the year 2030, the trend of & # 39; sharenting & # 39; will represent two thirds of online identity fraud against young people (archive image)
The bank warns that an innocent snap of the first day could be used to circumnavigate a security question such as the name of someone's first school, which is the kind of security question that someone could use to access bank accounts when they reach the most age. . Information like this can also be combined to fraudulently obtain a credit card or a bank loan in the child's name.
In fact, Barclays experts predict that, by the year 2030, the trend of & # 39; sharenting & # 39; will be the reason for two thirds of online identity fraud against young people. Will Geddes believes that even though the National Crime Agency and other agencies are doing everything possible, parents should be on the front line.
"Ask yourself, would you feel comfortable leaving the picture on a table in a public cafeteria?" He says. "Are you glad there's nothing a stranger can benefit from seeing?"
For Nicola, the harassment of his daughter ended after two months when the person behind him contacted her through the application called FaceTime on Christmas Day, after finding his mobile number on the website he uses to sell his art.
It turned out to be a mentally disturbed teenager in Canada who had created a fantasy in her head that she was friends with her daughter. Nicola said: "I answered the call of a Canadian number I did not know and this girl was in. I hung up immediately and blocked the number.
However, the call meant that he could persuade the Canadian police to trace the number and visit the girl's family. "The girl lived with her grandparents, who had no idea what she was up to on her iPad in the bedroom, I do not know how she found Lucy or why she focused on her.
"But he showed me that there are people who will get angry with young children and I'm not willing to give them any kind of bait."
Some names have been changed.