JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – They seem innocent; bumper stickers that reveal to passing motorists how many children you have, where they attend school, the sports they play and hobbies your family enjoys, but to a would-be criminal they may signal an opportunity to target your children or your home.
“It can really help a would-be criminal paint a picture of what your lifestyle is like,” explained Callahan Walsh, child advocate for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “One of the things we tell children at the National Center when they are first getting online is don’t put too much information out there and here. We have the parents doing that right out in the public.”
Walsh said bumper stickers that depict the number of family members in a household or stickers that provide the names of children who play certain sports share too much information.
“It’s something parents should give a second thought about,” said Walsh. “If someone is trying to find an opportune moment to take a child, knowing their schedule is a key piece of information and a piece of information that parents should be keeping away from these would-be abductors.”
A warning posted by a Newnan Police Department in North Carolina on Facebook, illustrating the problems these stickers create, quickly went viral in February. It provides examples of bumper stickers that can provide details strangers could use to target you or your family.
For example, stickers revealing the sport your child plays and their name, gives a would-be kidnapper information about where your child could be gathering with other kids or signals to a would-be thief when you may not be home.
Add to that a bumper sticker that reveals your child’s school and the neighborhood where you live and this can be a road map for a criminal.
The police department also pointed out avoiding stickers that could reveal if a spouse travels frequently for work and is not home often. It also warns against stickers that share your interest in hobbies that might reveal you have expensive, recreational equipment at home.
“I think putting too much information out there for any would-be criminal does open you up to opportunities that they may take in either robbing your home or even worse abducting your children,” explained Walsh.
The police department that issued the warning is not suggesting you scrape off all the bumper stickers on your car, but that you think more about what that sticker may reveal to someone who could be looking for an opportunity to commit a crime.
Walsh said he hopes parents do not underestimate the lengths to which predators will go to take a child.
“Even though it is a parent’s worst nightmare, many of us live in bliss thinking, ‘Hey, this could never happen to us.’”
Walsh’s brother, Adam, was kidnapped from a mall in Hollywood, Florida, four decades ago and murdered.
Walsh’s father, John, later created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“That’s exactly what happened to my parents when my brother, Adam, was kidnapped in 1981. They never thought something like this could happen to them, and it did,” Walsh said. This is why Walsh wants parents to be cautious, not just about what they reveal through bumper stickers, but also what they post online.
“We’re seeing here at the National Center, unfortunately, an uptick in our missing children’s cases, in fact an uptick in our stranger abduction cases,” Walsh said.