Stop scammers from targeting your teens
They’ve got their own cell phones, computers, websites, webcams and social networking accounts, and many of them can outsmart their teachers and parents when it comes to the internet and computers. They’ve got tech savvy — but even today’s younger generations aren’t immune to fraud.
Sexual predators and cyber-bullies aren’t the only threats children and teens face online. Scammers will target anyone willing to trust them. The result? Children and teens can unknowingly expose their families to identify theft and computer viruses, and they can even be defrauded of their cash.
So what’s the best protection? As with any kind of fraud, your best bet is to stay one step ahead of the con artists by being aware of the risks and taking steps to avoid them.
Scams targeting children and teens
Anyone using the internet can be targeted for common schemes like phishing scams and get-rich-quick schemes. However, according to Scambusters.org, there are several scams aimed directly at children and teens, including:
Too-good-to-be-true deals. Victims see an item they want for sale online — like the latest electronic gadgets — for a price they can’t pass up. Most kids couldn’t normally afford these items, so these steep discounts are especially appealing. However, they send the money but don’t receive the promised item.
People selling items are also targeted — a scammer posing as a legitimate person or company cons them into shipping items before payment is received (or the cheque clears).
Talent scams. These ads and emails seem like a dream come true for aspiring stars. Victims are invited to take a screen test, join a modelling agency or be part of a sports school. There’s often a charge or hidden fee for those supposedly “free” consultations.
Predators can also pretend to be talent scouts or agents and ask teens to do questionable things in front of their webcams as a way to “get into the business”.
Fake awards. This scam is similar to those “you’ve won the lottery” schemes — only this one purports to be a reward or prize based on achievement. The catch? A big up-front fee for awards which are never delivered.
Scholarship scams. Who doesn’t want money for college or university? These scams charge students for out of date lists, and those “guarantees” of scholarship money never materialize.
Bogus competitions. Victims can be lured into giving out personal information about themselves or their families under the guise of participating in an online competition or survey. Children and teens are just as susceptible as adults to phishing scams and fake registrations.
Running anti-virus software and a firewall are a must, but there are additional ways parents, grandparents and those who care for children can promote safe internet use:
1. Learn the risks
Imagine teaching your teen how to drive when you don’t know the rules of the road. Parents have to stay a step ahead of their children to provide valuable guidance — but the roles are often reversed when it comes to the internet and today’s technology.
Experts recommend that the first thing you should do is educate yourself about the potential dangers and common scams. Learn the risks involved with the software and applications your children use — like social networking sites, music downloading services and email (for a start).
Additionally, you should know your rights as a parent. For instance, your consent is required before your children under a certain age can give out any information. OnGuard Online (maintained by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission) notes that you have the right to request that a website delete any information it has about your child. If you’ve given permission for a website to collect personal information, you have the right to withdraw it.
2. Talk it over
Once you’re armed with the right information (and the right vocabulary), it’s time to sit down and start a conversation. What you tell your children will depend on their ages, but experts recommend making sure your children and teens understand:
– What personal information is, why it’s important to protect it and how to safe-guard it online. Just as a child shouldn’t give out their phone number and address to a stranger in person, they shouldn’t do it on the internet either.
– What is or isn’t safe to click on. (Like questionable links in emails, pop-up windows and downloads).
– What information is public and what is private, and how they can control privacy settings. Help them understand the consequences of what they post online — like getting in trouble at school or losing a job.
– How to handle (or avoid) communications with strangers. Teens rely heavily on email, forums, chatting, texting and social networks as part of their social life — but knowing how to use a software application is different from understanding the social ramifications. Some questions you might want to consider are what information it’s “okay” to share online (status updates, photos, etc), who it’s appropriate to add as a “friend” and how to spot fraudsters.
– What scams are out there and how to recognize them. (For example, are the offers too good to be true? Do they ask for money upfront?) Children may be too young to identify a scam, but they should be aware that there are people out there who lie and it’s okay to talk to an adult when they have questions.
– How to verify information they find online using reputable sources, and how to tell if a website or email is part of a scam.
– What to do if they see something inappropriate like hate speech or a scam, and what to do if they think they’ve given away information they shouldn’t have.
While it doesn’t necessarily pertain to fraud, there are a number of other issues in the grey area of online ethics that should also be discussed — like privacy rules, hate speech, bullying, misrepresenting oneself, illegal downloading and violating copyright laws (or plagiarism). Violating certain rules can get them in trouble at school — or with the law.
3. Set limits
Part of your ongoing conversation about internet safety should involve laying some ground rules. What those rules are will depend on the age and maturity of the children and teens involved as well as your comfort level. Experts recommend making a list as a family and coming up with a code of conduct that everyone can follow. Some ideas you can consider include:
– Keeping the computer in a common area (rather than the child’s room) where use can be supervised.