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Teen online safety: A parent's guide to scam prevention

The internet can feel like a safe space compared to the real world, but it harbours darker, unseen dangers that might be difficult to ward off. So, how as parents, you can identify the red flags before it’s too late?

Teen online safety:  A parent's guide to scam prevention

Thursday March 28, 2024 , 5 min Read

Scammers have always thrived, but technology has made them more cunning. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports a staggering 30% increase in fraud losses ($8.8 billion in 2023) compared to 2021, with much of it happening digitally.

While GenZ and Gen Alpha might be pros in shooting viral reels or navigating Discord chats and meme slang, their online expertise might not translate to recognising sophisticated scams. From phishing emails and account takeovers, scholarship and talent schemes, malware and spyware to social engineering and blackmail, scammers target teens with various tactics. Though the overall number of teen victims might seem lower due to fewer financial resources, the dangers are significant. A 2021 Social Catfish study revealed a 2500% increase in teen financial losses from online scams between 2017 and 2022, compared to an 805% increase for seniors.

The internet can feel like a safe space compared to the real world, but it harbours darker, unseen dangers that might be difficult to ward off. So, how can you, as parents, identify the red flags before it’s too late?

This article will explore warning signs to watch out for and offer practical tips for talking to your teens about online scams. Read along!

A Parent's Guide to Teen Online Safety

Educate your teens about the different frauds

Equipping your child to navigate the digital world safely starts with awareness. Discuss online scams and their potential consequences for them and the family. Here are some key points to cover:

  • Begin by polishing their existing knowledge about scams. Ask them what they know about digital scams and what types they've encountered.
  • Explain how online criminals exploit children's curiosity through various tactics– 
  • Friend phishing: Fake emails disguised as messages from friends.
  • Social media scams: Deceptive posts promising rewards or promoting fake products.
  • Phishing texts: Urgent messages urging them to click on suspicious links
  • Exemplify with recent examples that specifically target children.

Understand teen scamscapes

Teens navigate the online world differently than adults. Scammers exploit these differences, targeting them through mediums you might not expect.

Gone are the days of obvious phishing emails. Scams are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect. Romance scams flourishing in Instagram DMs are a prime example. Teens are often managing their own money for the first time, making them vulnerable to online shopping scams, fake business opportunities, and bogus job offers.

Here’s how you can empower your kids:

  • Guide them on verifying sellers before buying anything online, whether through search engines, social media, or marketplaces like Amazon.
  • Educate them to confirm the source of seemingly official emails, texts, or DMs by contacting the sender directly through a different channel (e.g., call a company's listed phone number instead of replying to an email).
  • Teach them not to share personal details (phone numbers, email addresses, home addresses); and if required, only to do so with trusted sources like websites or people they know well.
  • Create a strong, unique password for every account you sign up for. Consider using a password manager to help you generate and store them securely.
  • Encourage using online nicknames or usernames instead of real names on gaming platforms or social media profiles.
  • Avoid posting personal photos or revealing too much information in your profile pictures.
  • Urge your teens to keep their social media accounts private.
  • Educate them to identify and counter cyberbullying and scams by blocking users, deleting information on suspicious platforms, and saving evidence if necessary.
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Keep the conversation going

We get it; adding online safety to the list of crucial talks with your teen (sex, drugs, social media) can feel overwhelming. But here's the good news: these conversations can be quick and effective.

Why regular check-ins matter:

  • By regularly discussing the latest scams (from news, friends, or personal experiences), you stay ahead of the curve and help your teens to be prepared.
  • Share your encounters with scams, or stories of someone you know. This helps them recognise red flags.
  • Emphasise that they can come to you about suspicious messages or online interactions without fear of punishment.
  • Encourage them to follow online creators who discuss cybercrime and fraud.
  • By consistently talking about scams, you equip them to identify them on their own.

The most important takeaway? Let them know you're a safe space for discussing online concerns. Instead of overly restricting internet access, focus on building their scam-spotting skills.

Set the stage for online security

While prevention is key, there are additional steps you can take to minimise damage if your teen encounters a scam:

  • Consider investing in a good password management tool. This helps them create and store strong, unique passwords for each account, reducing the risk of compromise.
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all their important accounts – email, social media, and especially financial platforms. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second verification code in addition to their password when logging in.
  • Review essential security practices you might assume they already know. Remind them time and again to never share passwords with friends, avoid letting others access their devices, and refrain from disclosing personal information like their addresses online. 
  • Check with your child's school to see if they have a digital skills curriculum and what it covers.  This curriculum might reinforce the safety practices you're teaching at home and provide additional resources.

The web, like any corner of the world, has its shadows. No one, young or old, is entirely safe from them. The only way to shield your kids is through awareness. By educating them about these deceptive tactics, you can help them protect their money, reputation, and even their mental health.