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Common Scams That Target Kids and Teens

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Common Scams Kids & Teens

We’ve heard a lot lately about the savvy phishing scams that target adults, but kids are also at risk from identity theft and financial scams—especially if those kids have access to credit or debit cards. What’s more, as of 2021, the minimum age for some cash transfer apps (like CashApp, Apple Pay, and Google Pay) is 13, which means kids can easily make instant online purchases or transfer funds to another person even if they don’t have a physical card.

If your child has access to a cash app—and even if they don’t—talk to them about what scammers do. Give your child examples of common scams so they can easily recognize the red flags themselves. Set some guidelines for how you handle money as a family and consider implementing some safeguards (like using parental controls, installing ad blockers, and using only cards with pre-paid or intentionally low limits). The Federal Trade Commission also suggests you check for signs of identity theft by seeing if your child has a credit report—which most children under the age of 18 should not have. If you spot fraudulent activity in your child’s credit report by the time they turn 16, you may have time to correct it before he or she applies for college loans, jobs, car loans, or credit cards (or before they try to rent an apartment) at the age of 18.

Here Are 7 Common Scams to Watch Out For:

  • Scholarship Scams. The goal of scholarship scams is often identity theft, but these scams could also include bogus application fees—sometimes with the promise of returned funds if the scholarship is “awarded” to someone else. In most cases, these scholarship scams do not issue awards, and those application fees are never returned. As you or your child apply for scholarships, keep in mind that most scholarship opportunities are altruistic and won’t come at a cost (beyond postage, time, and materials). If there is a fee—particularly a large one—it is likely a scam (or at least a profit-focused endeavor).
  • Fake Freebies Scams. This type of scam often asks viewers on social media to like or share fake product pages. “We’re giving away 50 Sony PlayStation 5 consoles this week,” the ad may read. “Click this link/Like our page/complete these steps,” the ad continues and when you do, suddenly the scammers have access to your Facebook page, your followers, and your personal information.
  • Talent and Modeling Scams. Fraudsters looking to prey on kids and teens who long for stardom can be found on social media, in magazines, and local conventions or events (like the state fair). They promise hopeful kids a modeling or acting career but say they need upfront fees for acting/modeling lessons and professional headshots (from their photographers, of course) to make it happen. The classes and photos may take place, but most of the time, even after handing over hundreds or thousands of dollars, no auditions or bookings occur.
  • Skill-Based Contest Scams. Related to the talent and modeling scams, there is a trend of scammers posting contests that urge teens to submit their artwork, creative writing, or song compositions to win money and fame. Many of these faux contests come with an entry fee and occasionally even more fees (if the entry “wins”) for publication, promotion, and copies of the work.
  • Social Media Scams. The chief goal behind most social media scams is identity theft. Scammers send out surveys or contests that ask for personal information. “Instascam” is so named because it occurs on the photo-sharing app, Instagram. Scammers comment on posts with offers, giveaways, and money-making schemes. They offer opportunities to gain followers or make the targeted user an influencer, but those promises rarely pan out and, in the process, personal information or money could easily be lost.
  • Catfishing. Scary and often heartbreaking, catfishing is a scheme in which a fraudster befriends your child online with the intention of taking money, personal information, or more. These ruses typically occur through a social media or messaging service and the catfisher is likely to use a photo taken from the internet that fits the profile they are trying to fake. Tell your child to watch out for strangers who get quickly attached, refuse to provide live visual confirmation of their identity, have elaborate and emotional stories, ask for money, or ask them to switch to a different conversation platform (like Snapchat where messages disappear).
  • Online Auction and Shopping Scams. This type of scam can go both ways. Sellers can post something, collect your child’s money, and refuse to send the item. They could also buy something your child or teen posts for sale and encourage them to send the item because the “payment is on its way”. Be especially cautious of scams on sites like OfferUp and Craigslist where buyers request alternate payment methods (often to bypass security) or overpay “accidentally” and ask for a refund via cash or a cash transfer app. This often indicates that the buyer is using a stolen credit card and is trying to get additional cash out of the scam before getting caught.

Teens and kids may be tech-savvy, but scammers are increasingly smart about targeting their interests and needs. Discuss the red flags of these scams as a family and talk about how you all can avoid becoming a victim of scams. Remind your kids and teens to protect their assets and to never provide personal or financial information to strangers. The bottom line (as always) is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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