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By Matt Cullina, Identity Theft 911

Parents of gamers have likely caught wind of the hype surrounding two fall arrivals: Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. These so-called shooter games are the latest installments to two established and—in the case of Call of Duty, wildly successful—video game series. One analyst for Forbes forecast that MW3 would sell 16 million copies and Battlefield 8 million copies by year-end.

But for those of us who look at those numbers and see the young players behind each purchase, the continued phenomenon of online gaming also means continued cause for concern.

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It was only six months ago that Sony made headlines with reports of two major data breaches. The first, a hack of its PlayStation network, exposed the personal identifying information of potentially 70 million people worldwide. The second involved the accounts of 25 million members of Sony Online Entertainment. Taken together, they served as a jarring reminder—or for many people, as a wake-up call—to the security risks inherent in online gaming.

The incidents became even more unsettling in light of the fact that many of the affected gamers were kids, teens, and tweens—among the most appealing targets to identity thieves.  It’s clear that the need to make smart choices in this area is more important than ever. So before your child becomes lost in their newest MW3 missions, consider the following tips—adapted from the National Cyber Security Alliance—for helping him or her safely navigate the online gaming world.

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1.    Before your kids start playing, be sure your computer has an activated security suite: a firewall, anti-spyware software, and anti-virus software.

2.    Be sure your kids have strong passwords for their gaming accounts. Passwords should be at least eight characters long and contain letters, numbers, and symbols.

3.    Participate in the game with your kids.

4.    Make sure your kid knows how to block and/or report a cyberbully.

5.    Make sure your child’s user name does not give away their name, location, gender, age, or any other personal information. (Examples: beach01, book2).

6.    Have your kids use an avatar, not an actual picture of themselves.

7.    Read and understand the ratings for the games that your children are playing.

8.    Keep the computer out in the open so that you can monitor your kids’ online activities.

9.    Make sure your kids know that they shouldn’t send materials to fellow gamers that contain private information and/or data.

10.    Use built-in parental controls on your Web browser.

11.    Don’t let your children download anything without your permission. This includes cheat programs that may claim to help your child perform better in the game, but really could be carrying malware.

12.    Remember that prohibition won’t work. Your children will use computers and games consoles, even if it’s at school or at friends’ houses. If you talk to your kids about risks and good judgment, they will be able to get a lot more out of the web.

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A version of this article originally appeared on Identity Theft 911 on Nov. 8, 2011.

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