PESHAWAR -- Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has issued an advisory for parents and children to beware of the risks of cybercrime during the coronavirus lockdown as youth increase their use of social media.
The risks extend to attempted recruitment by extremists looking for young, impressionable targets.
"In view of the latest outbreak of coronavirus, students are currently on their holidays and are likely to spend much of their time surfing on the internet," said the advisory published in The News International newspaper on March 24.
"To avoid possible dangers, beware of risks of cybercrime, which children and youngsters are prone to while they are on the internet," it said.
The advisory urges both parents and children to "be careful that a few male and female criminals mask themselves as someone they are not and then lure youngsters/children into their trap by [becoming friends] with them on social media channels".
Parents should allow youngsters to use the internet only under supervision and in a shared space, suggests the advisory.
At the same time, children are advised to never share personal information, private pictures or videos with anyone on social media and never to accept "friend requests" from any strangers.
The FIA advised both parents and children to not stay silent if they become the victim of a cybercrime.
The 9911 Cybercrime Wing helpline is available for anyone seeking guidance or wishing to report a cybercrime, the advisory noted.
"It is the responsibility of FIA to give warnings about the misuse of the internet by some unscrupulous elements who will try to lure youngsters and minors for their ulterior motives," said Wajid Safi, the regional director of the CyberCrime Wing FIA.
Misuse of the internet is increasing at an alarming pace as the number of cybercrime complaints rises each day, he said, adding that teenagers are more vulnerable and need extra attention from parents and the concerned departments.
From the start of the year through March, the regional office of the FIA CyberWing so far has received more than 500 complaints that have warranted action and precautionary measures, according to Wajid.
Teach cybercrime awareness to children, he suggested.
"We should teach our youth about the dangers of the internet and measures for self-protection," he said.
Those dangers include online recruitment by extremists.
"The FIA has shown great responsibility by issuing this warning to parents and children for protection from cybercrime," said Mossarat Qadeem, a peace activist and chairwoman of PAIMAN Alumni Trust, an Islamabad-based pro-peace non-governmental organisation.
The FIA deserves appreciation for "drawing public attention to cybercrime, which is spoiling lives, especially those of youth, by pushing them toward immoral activities and even to the abhorrent act of radicalism," Qadeem said.
In her peacebuilding and de-radicalisation efforts, she found that the internet had become a major avenue for gaining access to young minds and leading them down the wrong path, she said.
Increased internet use is leading to problems like extremism, even in developed countries with high literacy rates, she said.
In Pakistan, it is even easier for unscrupulous elements to influence youngsters with biased information and arguments, she warned.
Qadeem urged parents to take such advice seriously and to keep an eye on their children when they were using the internet.
Muhammad Asif of Peshawar, chairman of the Youth Anti-Terrorism Organisation, also praised the FIA initiative.
Apart from the FIA, other government departments and civil society organisations should come forward and concentrate on educating Pakistanis on how to protect themselves against the misuse of social media and digital technologies, he said.
As the coronavirus lockdown continues, "our children have engaged themselves in using mobile phones by watching different programmes and playing games," said Muhammad Salman of Peshawar, a local businessman and father of three children.
With the sudden spread of the coronavirus, routine activities came to a halt, Salman said.
Even adults are indulging themselves in using mobile phones and surfing online to pass the time, he said.
It is commendable that the FIA has warned parents about the dangers faced by them and their children, Salman said, adding that he will stay vigilant for the safety of his family.