Internet Sensation Poses a Serious Safety Risk

Gotta catch ‘em all…that’s the tag line that many fans of a new location-based game are sharing as their online mantras, but the reality of a new app is anything but a game. Based off of a once-widely popular card-based game, Pokémon Go is taking over social media and users’ devices like nothing before.

In this game, users download an app that relies on access to their smartphone cameras and location settings. You open the app, look around you at your real surroundings via your phone’s screen, and suddenly a cartoon character from the Pokémon world of creatures appears on your screen, seemingly sitting on your sofa next to you. You throw a bi-colored ball at the creature in the app, and you “catch” it.

That’s it. That’s the whole game. But users have become virtually addicted to the virtual creatures, battling it out to collect rare creatures and to fill their coffers with the full variety of cartoon creatures.

To be completely fair to the game and its devotees, Pokémon Go stands to have some actual benefits. Those who’ve shared their activity on social media have told stories of whole families getting out and going for a walk together, trying to collect all the creatures. Others have shared stories about how this game has actually brought people together; in light of the recent headlines, there have even been heartwarming stories of strangers of different races and backgrounds coming together to catch a specific character. One viral story mentioned a police officer who investigated the suspicious behavior of a handful of individuals, only to get interested in the game and download the app himself right in front of them.

But as with any new technology, there can be some hidden pitfalls that users may not realize. Within a day of the app’s launch, news reports had begun to circulate of a teenaged girl who stumbled on a dead body while playing the game. It wasn’t long until reports of a traffic accident on a major highway appeared, and the driver at fault admitted to playing the game while driving; that story later proved to be a complete hoax by a fake news site, but the appeal of the game sent the story viral as readers willingly believed it. There have even been social media posts from non-players who’ve reportedly had strangers knock on their doors, asking permission to come inside and “catch” a virtual creature whose location appeared on the users’ phones.

The real concern with this game is that it relies on several parts of your privacy that need to be closely guarded, namely your camera, your location, and your social media accounts. This is perhaps one of the first major juxtapositions of your virtual game world colliding with your physical location in a way that can put you in harm’s way.

News circulated yesterday of a gang of armed robbers who lured victims to their location with promises of a rare creature to be caught. And given the cooperative nature of the game, it’s not too hard to envision a predator setting up camp in a park and luring victims to a more remote area by pretending to be a fellow game devotee. So before you or your family can enjoy the fun of catching the virtual Pokémon creatures, it’s important to establish some personal security rules:

1. Don’t Poke and Drive – Yes, a hashtag has already been established on social media, warning people not to play Pokémon Go while driving. You might realize the common sense behind that warning, but it doesn’t mean your fellow drivers got the message. Buckle up, keep your speed in check, and be very watchful of the cars around you.

2. Don’t Share Your Location – One of the fun features of the game is telling your social media connections where you are while playing, or announcing the direction you’re heading. While the obvious response would be to realize this might be a great time to break into your house, remember that it’s also a good time for a predator to spot your location, realize how isolated you might be, and take action.

3. Watch those Location Settings – If you have an older model smartphone, you may not have the option to engage the Location Settings on an app-by-app basis; newer models of certain popular phones let you tap each app and approve its use or not, but only if you didn’t give blanket permission. If your Location Settings are turned on, remember that everything you do could be broadcasting your specific coordinates, not just while you play the game.

4. Stranger Danger – Yes, it’s nice to think of a simple game getting more people out there exercising and bringing people together for a common goal, even one that might seem a little silly. But talk to your family members about the threat of engaging with a stranger in real life. Make sure they understand they are never to go off with that person, and never to share their personal details with that individual.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: Your Online Presence: The Security Pros and Cons

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