Con artists don’t just attack adults. They recognize that children, ignorant of the harm that handing out sensitive information can cause, are the perfect target for scams. From the promise of free Justin Bieber concert tickets to seeing who views your profile, the scams created to lure in unsuspecting kids and teens are hard for anyone to avoid if they do not understand the basic types of cons people use to get information or money.
Some of the most common scams are those related to online “sales” for desirable technology like iPads, but the promised products don’t exist: the scammers take the money and run. When kids are duped into paying for nonexistent items, they often respond by hiding the fact from their parents out of shame, especially if they sold something or used a portion of their savings to get the cash to buy the fake product.
There are hundreds of ways people target kids for scams, but here are five other basic types:
1. Free Stuff
“Free” is never free, in the real world or the virtual. The promise of free music downloads, free ringtones, and more, is almost always a trap. Kids (and even adults) are frequently lured in for a brief period of time, then the site prompts them to pay for further use of the service or to hand over information to continue. Once the site collects personal or bank information, it secretly charges fees or steals identities before anyone can notice.
Most “freebies” are meant to collect sensitive information. Make sure your kids know this, and encourage them to leave the free stuff alone: official sites, like iTunes and Google Play, are much safer.
2. Stealing the Products Kids Make
Some kids have the entrepreneurial spirit, but that can be extinguished for good when they are cheated out of their due. Scams target overeager kids who are selling their products online and promise them payment through an escrow company or a check, then make off with the products before the kid realizes that the escrow or check was fake.
3. Contests, Giveaways, and Lotteries
One of the easiest ways to catch kids is by promising them what they want: toys, technology, money, merchandise, and even game currency or upgrades. Kids are tricked into phishing scams and identity theft because they do not see the harm in entering a competition or getting an immediate reward by filling out a little questionnaire or a small form. Without someone there to tell them that the prize isn’t real and no one will win, they fall right into the scam.
Lottery scams, most of which require a wire transfer or bank information, are more enticing to older kids. Anything that requires you to spend money to get money is an obvious trick, but many people are not alerted to this in time.
4. Games and Clubs
Any games you have to download are a risk, because they open up your devices to viruses. What’s more, many games ask for too much information from kids before letting them play, which results in hidden charges popping up on cell phone bills or elsewhere. Other games hook a child, then demand payment for continued playing.
Online club membership is also a possible scam. Small children especially love the idea of becoming a member of a club, but few memberships come without hidden or outright fees. Make sure that any time your child affiliates with an online club or organization, you are the one in charge of signing them up.
5. Fake Scholarships and Jobs
Talent is a great thing, but plenty of cons try to hoodwink both kids and parents with hope. An invitation to take a screen test, to join a model agency, to attend a celebrity sports school, or to receive a grant or scholarship, and even a notification that your child has won a prize due to their skills or performance—all of these and more are used to dupe parents or teens into handing out information or, more likely, paying an upfront fee for the right to access the promised opportunity. If anything results after that, it’s only a cheap imitation of what had been promised, yet some fine-print trick lets the guilty go free.
Before your kids can be caught, you need to step in and help them understand the real risks associated with giving away information, downloading anything, and paying money for something before it is proven to exist. You are your children’s first line of defense, and talking them through the dangers and creating a list of safety rules can be all that stands between them and a damaging scam.