How to teach your kids to spot a scam on their first phone

By: Sarah Kimmel Werle

Kids can be vulnerable to certain kinds of online scams—especially on their first phone. But they can learn to spot them, too. An IT specialist and parent shares her tips.

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Mother And Kid Talking About Online Scams

It’s 6 PM on a Friday night, and my son comes to me with his head held low and says he just got scammed and now he can’t access an online account. The next day, a friend’s daughter reaches out to say she got scammed out of $300 online marketplace.

Online scams are everywhere, and they’re increasingly difficult to spot. In fact, even the most experienced adult can fall for these scams. They might be embarrassing to discuss, but we need to talk to our kids about the online scams we fall for, what kinds of scams are out there and how to outsmart them.

Here are the five key points I talk through with my kids that help them stay aware.

‘Kids Can Be Vulnerable To A Scam When They Want Something They Don’t Have.’ By Sarah Werle Kimmel, Parent And Family Tech Expert | Online Scams

1. If someone offers you something you want but can’t afford, be suspicious.

Kids can be vulnerable to an online scam when they want something they don’t have. Whether it’s a new Fortnite skin or a special tool in a game—if they want it but they can’t afford it, they’re vulnerable.

Online scammers may offer your kid a free item or in-game currency in exchange for something. The scammer may say they need your child’s login information to send the item, and once they have the info, they may kick your child out of their account. Scammers can also use these free gifts as a grooming tactic to get your child to do something for them, like take and share an innocent picture—and escalate it from there.

A similar tactic is to offer to sell something online at a cheap price, like a new gaming system for $50. Kids want to believe it’s real, but when they send the person $50, they don’t get the thing they purchased. The best preventative strategy: Make sure your child shows you what they plan to buy online before they send anyone money.

2. Never share your login information.

My son fell for this online scam. He got an online message he thought was legitimate saying there was something wrong with his account. He tried to fix the problem himself and ended up handing over his login credentials to a scammer.

These online scams are designed to make you react before you can think it through—they often make requests that sound extremely urgent. Make sure your kids know they should come to you any time there’s a problem on one of their accounts—even if they think it could be a quick fix. You can help them make sure the request is legitimate.

3. There’s no problem we can’t fix together.

Then there are extortion tactics. This online scam generally starts out with a bad actor pretending to be a friend or peer. These messages can show up as a random text or a wrong number. Then this bad actor may convince your child that they’re a friend, interested in your child, and may ask for some inappropriate images. As soon as your child sends the images, the person may try to extort money.

Let your child know that even if they made a mistake, they can always come to you. Too many kids try to handle these situations on their own and it gets out of control. It’s essential that kids know you’ll help them fix it.

4. If you’re selling something online, you shouldn’t need to pay for it.

My friend’s daughter was selling something online. Someone responded saying they’d buy it. The person “sent” money, but for my friend’s daughter to receive it, she was told she needed to pay to upgrade her account. The buyer said they’d send money to reimburse her for the expense. Once the daughter paid to “upgrade,” the buyer disappeared.

This is an extremely common online scam that both kids and adults fall for. You should never need to send money when you’re selling something. And if you’re buying something online, send payment through a secure app like PayPal Goods and Services so you can get your money back if the seller doesn’t hold up their end of the deal.

Also, don’t rely on an email that shows you’ve been paid. Log in to your account to verify the payment.

5. Double-check everyone—even your friends.

Finally, make sure your kids know that anyone can pretend to be anyone online. Even if the person online says they’re a friend from school, call or text them directly to verify that they are who they say they are. Kids should know that their friends’ accounts can get hacked too, so if a friend is saying things that don’t sound like them, call or text them directly to verify they’re asking for help.

The bottom line

Online scams are everywhere, and people of all ages continue to fall for them. For kids just learning the responsibility of having their own phone for the first time, let them know that honing their scam-spotting ability can take years, so if they have questions, they can come to you. And they should always check in anytime anything feels a little off.

Keep an eye on their phone—without looking at their phone—with Smart Family.

About the author:

Sarah Kimmel Werle is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their homes. She also gives quick tech tips daily on her Instagram account @FamilyTech.


The author has been compensated by Verizon for this article.

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