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Police urge parents to use caution before sharing children's school photos

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Law enforcement officials caution parents about sharing their children's photos from the first day of a new school year. 

It isn’t a bad habit, but the photo or information could get into the wrong hands — that is, potential scammers .

York City Police Capt. Daniel Lentz warns parents to be aware of the background in the photos and not have street signs or numbers.  Likewise, parents should take care not to reveal personal information, such as the school's name and the child's age, grade or teacher.

Further, Lentz suggested not sharing the child's favorite food or color because predators can use the information to create a rapport with the child. The photos are great — and could become cherished heirlooms — but parents need to be cognizant about where they will show up online and how they may be used.

“Just be careful,” he said. 

York City Police suggest some tips for parents to follow when children's school photos online. York City Police photo

West York Police Chief Matthew Millsaps said there's no guarantee that a photo shared on a personal social media account will stay there. First, the photos can always be saved and shared elsewhere. And it may not be predators outside the family, he said, noting there are many abductions by estranged family members.

“The best practice that I advise is don’t put any pictures of your kids up on the internet,” Millsaps said.

That may make him "sound like a boomer," the chief said, but he's looking at this from a different perspective: Safety.

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If parents are going to share the photos, Millsaps said they need to be aware of how limited their social media accounts are. Parents should check to see what their accounts look like to an outsider — for example, by logging out of their account or using Facebook's "view as" feature.

But he added the friends and family privacy setting isn’t 100% secure. 

“Once something goes into cyberspace, it’s out there,” he said, adding there are ways people can find the photos. 

Millsaps said the posts can give others the details on the family’s life, such as what bus route the children are on or when the house will be empty that can be saved and shared with the wrong people. 

They can show others when the house is empty, which is a burglary opportunity, he said, noting that he's seen several cases where a criminal admitted using social media or doorbell cameras to learn their target's routine.

Another issue with posting these photos is technology has advanced enough to place a face onto another image, which can be used in child pornography. Millsaps also made note of cyberbullying, in which bullies steal photos and use them to harass their targets. 

“They’ll use those photos to … do things to pick on kids,” he said, explaining the bullies will write or draw on the photos.

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He explained some of those photos could be something the children don’t want the other students to see, even if parents' believe the pose is cool or endearing. 

Millsaps said there isn’t any point in posting a photo of a child with a blurred face to protect the child. Friends and family can’t see the joy in their eyes, which defeats the purpose of posting the photo.

“A picture of a child with a blurred out face really shows no purpose to anybody,” he said.

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.

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