How to Protect Minors from Being Scammed Online

Security and Fraud

Today’s youth have grown up surrounded by computers, smartphones, the internet and social media. It’s no surprise they are internet and tech savvy and have a lot of confidence navigating online. Along with their tech knowledge, young kids and teens may also be more inexperienced and more trusting of others, which can leave them vulnerable to online scammers.

At Centris Federal Credit Union, we’ve seen an increase in minors and young adults being targeted for scams that can negatively impact their bank accounts, personal information and/or social media platforms. According to the FBI, there were 14,919 scam incidents reported by people aged 19 or younger in 2021. These scams alone resulted in losses close to $101.4 million dollars.

To help protect minors and young adults, we’ve put together a list of common scams to look out for, how to avoid being scammed and what parents/guardians can do to help keep our younger generation safe.

Why Scammers Target Kids and Young Adults

To understand why fraudsters would go after a minor or young adult, it’s best to understand why they are easy targets in the first place. This generation tends to be targeted more for two main reasons:

  • It takes longer to find out that a minor or young adult is a victim of identity theft because they don’t have credit reports and very few parents/guardians actively monitor their child’s social security number, therefore criminals use the stolen information longer for financial gain.
  • The youth’s information is often used in synthetic identity theft. This means the fraudster will create an identity with some of the minor’s or young adult’s personal information and fill in the gaps with details they’ve made up and ultimately steal their identity.

Most Popular Scams Targeting Minors & Young Adults

Social Media Scams

Social media is a primary platform used by most teens to interact and engage with friends and others they meet online. Scammers see this as an opportunity to target youngsters and steal their identities. They do this by creating surveys or contests that require inputting personal information (i.e., birth date, address, email address, phone number, etc.). Another way is through catfishing, which is where the fraudster will pose as someone and build a relationship with the minor or young adult in hopes they’ll share their personal information.

Online Shopping Scams

Due to convenience and ease, teens and young adults do a lot of online shopping, especially when it comes to expensive goods like the latest iPhone or designer clothing. Scammers will create ads that pop up through social media, YouTube videos and online gaming that advertise a bargain that is too good to be true to attract the younger generation who then provide their banking information to make the purchase. In some instances, the funds are sent but no product is received, and fraudulent charges are made on the account they used to make the purchase.

Identity Theft

Identify theft is one of the most prevalent for young adults and minors due to the digital world they live in. With social media, email, messaging apps and online pop-up windows at their fingertips, teens aren’t as aware or forget the importance of keeping their personal information confidential and the impacts it could have if a scammer were to get their hands on it. Oftentimes, young adults don’t even realize they are giving out personal data to a fraudster because they don’t catch the red flags in those online interactions (i.e., poor grammar,

Fake Skill or Talent Contest Scams

In today’s world of online influencers, scammers use this as an opportunity to target minors seeking fame. Scammers create fake contests looking for young actors or models or focus on finding minors with a particular skill such as art, music or writing. Some of these contests require an entry fee and if the minor wins, they could gain some cash. The kicker with this scam is that when the minor’s entry does win, the fraudster makes them pay additional fees that they claim helps to pay for promotion and publication of their winning entry.

Scholarship and Grant Scams

As young adults prepare themselves for college, they are often searching for ways to fund their future education. Scammers try to engage the soon-to-be graduates by offering them ways to qualify for scholarships and grants. Those opportunities tend to come at a cost through not only fees but also the cost of a minor’s personal information getting into the hands of a fraudster.

Student Loan Debt Forgiveness Scams

Young adults seeking student loan debt forgiveness may not understand the process or know which sources to trust as they research if they qualify. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of these individuals and create fake loan forgiveness applications. Due to a federal court block on student loan forgiveness, the U.S. Department of Education has extended the student loan payment pause until 60 days after the department is allowed to implement its forgiveness program, or 60 days after June 30, 2023, whichever is earliest. This extension gives scammers more time to try to collect personal details via fake loan applications to scam young adults.

Tips for Protecting Kids Online

There are several ways you can protect yourself  and your children from being scammed online:

  • Install malware or virus protection software on all your mobile devices, laptops, iPads and other devices that access the internet.
  • Don’t use the same password across platforms and refrain from password sharing. Instead create and use unique passwords for every log in.
  • Don’t click on links or open attachments from anyone you don’t know or trust.
  • Check online reviews. Use your Google search, do some digging, educate and empower yourself to help confirm what you are being sent is valid.
  • Don’t give out personal information unless you can confirm it is going to a trusted source, person or process.
  • Never pay to enter a contest, apply for scholarships or to get your dream job.
  • Do a reverse look up on any emails or phone numbers that are trying to contact you.
  • Parents/Guardians do not be upset with your minor/young adult. It can happen to anyone. You should also educate yourself on what to look for, what your minor/young adult is clicking on, engaging in, interested in or who they are talking to.

Help Teach Minors About Internet Safety

Education is key when it comes to helping protect the younger generations from scams. There are several steps you can take as a parent/guardian to provide guidance:

  • Help kids and young teens understand the importance and responsibility of keeping their log in credentials confidential, especially for their online banking, and make sure they are also using unique passwords for all the other platforms they log in to (i.e., social media, Netflix, Venmo, etc.). We know teens don’t want anyone poking around in their phone. They should feel the same way about their online banking and other platforms that contain personal information.
  • Help them set their social media accounts to private so it limits who can see what they are sharing.
  • Let them know it’s OK to ignore texts or calls from phone numbers they do not recognize and to show any questionable message to an adult they trust.
  • Show them how they can block phone calls and texts from an unknown phone number.
  • Teach them about what information they can give to individuals and what information should stay confidential and not be shared. For example, what is a social security number, what it is used for and when it is needed.
  • Block their social security number by contacting the Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213) or put a security freeze on their credit report and help prevent any type of identity theft from happening or going too far if they do happen to fall for a scam.
  • Let them know the best course of action if they do fall for a scam is to tell a trusted adult right away. Remind them that they don’t need to be embarrassed and it’s best they address the issue right away with someone who can help them stop the fraudster from creating more issues and hardship.

For more cybersecurity and internet safety tips on how to protect yourself, your family members or your business, contact our experts today and we’ll help answer any questions you have.

References: 10 Common Scams Targeted at Teens (investopedia.com)

<a href="https://www.centrisfcu.org/blog/author/liz-malmberg/" target="_self">Liz Malmberg</a>

Liz Malmberg

Author

Liz Malmberg is a senior marketing specialist at Centris Federal Credit Union in Omaha, Neb. As a co-host of the A Penny or Two for Your Thoughts podcast, Liz enjoys creating educational resources for those wanting to expand their financial knowledge and enhance their financial wellness. She received her Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has worked in marketing for 20 years. In her free time, Liz enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter and loves to help people live a healthier lifestyles as a certified nutrition coach and a CrossFit Level-1 trainer.

Guest Contributors

Ashley Goodsell

Ashley Goodsell

Ashley Goodsell is a BSA fraud investigator at Centris Federal Credit Union in Omaha, Neb. Ashley has been in her role at Centris for five years and has ten years of law enforcement experience. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Iowa and her Master of Public Administration in law from the University of Phoenix. Ashley has a passion for educating Centris members about fraud and contributes to the Centris Cybersecurity Center. In her free time, Ashley enjoys spending time with her kids at various sporting events, reading crime books and listening to podcasts.

Kim Smith

Kim Smith

Kim Smith is a BSA fraud analyst at Centris Federal Credit Union in Omaha, Neb. In her role, Kim helps educate Centris members about fraud and works to protect them from fraudulent activity. In her 17 years of experience, she has gained an expansive knowledge of the banking ecosystem, specifically focusing on money movement and fraud trends. Kim received her bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Nebraska Omaha. In her free time, Kim enjoys spending time with her family, going to musicals and symphonies, and reading.

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