The Pea recently had a rude introduction to the importance of online safety -- her Webkinz account was hacked, and she lost quite a bit of Webkinz cash, furniture, clothing and food. For those of you unfamiliar with Webkinz, they are real stuffed animals that come with codes that unlock virtual versions of those pets on Webkinz World's online virtual world. Every time you "adopt" a pet (i.e. buy one in a store and enter their code), you get Webkinz cash, an item of furniture, and a virtual room on Webkinz World. You can play online games to earn more cash, which you spend on food, clothing and furniture. You can also make friends with other people on Webkinz world, and send each other messages and presents.
The point of my lengthy description was not to show you how much I know about Webkinz (and I really do know more about it than I should --and that's a subject for more than a few future posts!). It's to point out that everything The Pea lost was virtual. We never really shelled out any money for it -- but she did spend a lot of time collecting that stuff, and it was still quite a sad loss for her.
Even sadder, she thinks a friend of hers may be the culprit. The Pea had logged on to Webkinz World while on a playdate with her friend, and although she claims she tried to type in her password secretly, her friend deliberately leaned over to watch her and found out her password. About a week later, a huge amount of cash, furniture, clothing and food was missing from her Webkinz account. Someone had logged on to The Pea's Webkinz account, used her Kinz Cash to buy lots of Webkinz stuff, added his/her Webkinz account to The Pea's Webkinz friend list, and sent all the stuff he/she bought
We have no proof, so I've told The Pea we can't go accusing anyone, least of all her so-called friend. And we may have made a terrible mistake; hers is not the first Webkinz account to get hacked, and her password was certainly not a strong password. I've tried to make light of the situation and tell her that she can always earn more Kinz Cash to replace what she has lost, and fortunately, she's not as into it as she used to be, so she doesn't log on to Webkinz World as frequently.
So, rather than accusing her friend of something she may or may not have done, I've told The Pea to take this experience as a sad example of what can happen on the internet if you don't take precautions, and to learn from it rather than waste time and energy dwelling on her loss. And I think The Pea has really taken it to heart. We changed her password to a secure one (a mix of characters and numbers, and not anything that can be easily guessed, like a name or a birthday). She knows not to share her password with any of her friends, and she's wary of logging onto the internet at other people's computers. She doesn't make friends on Webkinz with anyone we don't know in real life. And she's extended her newfound caution to her email account as well.
It's a hard lesson for a kid to learn, but The Pea learned it well -- and but since she did have to learn it, then I'm happy she did so at this young age, and in a relatively harmless circumstance, with minimal loss.
This post was inspired by the Yahoo! Motherboard's topic of the month for June: online safety.