10 ways to help your kids avoid online scams

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In today's digital age, kids are spending more time online than ever before. But the Internet remains a vast—and sometimes hostile—place for kids to explore. That's why parents should teach kids "cyber street smarts" for online safety and to help them avoid scams.

Educate yourself.

Adults are just as susceptible to scams as kids, so it's best to know what you're up against before you pass the knowledge on. With scams becoming more sophisticated over time, the possibilities are endless, so be sure to do your research.

Strengthen security on your mobile device.

If your kids have their own phones or if you allow them to use yours, make sure you have safeguards in place. Creating a strong passcode and 2FA (two-factor authentication) on apps with sensitive information will let your kids browse, talk, and game more safely. You could also shorten the time that elapses before your phone becomes locked. 

Pay attention to your inbox.

Scammers pose as everything from charities collecting donations and medical researchers who need funding to providers of "guaranteed" investment opportunities or employers offering lucrative work-from-home positions. The FTC Consumer Information site is a great resource to help educate you and your family about these digital dangers and what to do if you fall victim to one.

Block ads and avoid pop-ups. 

Consider teaching this in real time. When your kid is browsing the web, point out any pop-up ads. Explain what they are and why they should be avoided. If your kid likes playing mobile games, point out that while not all pop-up ads are dangerous, they can be a sneaky way for hackers to steal personal information or sneak onto a device.

Never click on suspicious links.

Suspicious links can appear in emails, social media posts, or can be passed around among friends. Fake links are often misspelled, too short or shortened, or have extra words in the URL that don't belong there. Kids can learn to identify fake links by first hovering over a hyperlink and checking the preview of the full URL at the lower-left corner of their screen. Emphasize the importance of thinking before clicking for both ads and links alike.

Advise extra caution on social media.

Discuss and review your kid's social media profile with them. Explain that hackers can now derive things like the location of your home by identifying landmarks in photos taken nearby, for example. Recent photos or videos could let robbers know when you're on vacation so they know you’re away from home, jeopardizing your safety and security.


Monitor online purchases.

With the amount of shopping that takes place online these days, it’s best to educate your kids about this early. Consider creating a family-approved site list where you approve safe shopping sites.

Think your kid is ready to make purchases on their own? Consider a debit card like Greenlight, which is designed for kids and lets parents pick stores where kids can spend money. This can be a powerful tool in teaching kids about financial responsibility and wise spending decisions.

Avoid shady mobile games.

Online gaming apps are also notorious for infecting computers, tablets, and phones with malware. Some mobile games even encourage your kids to download secondary apps to earn in-game cash, helping scammers hack into your phone and mine personal data. Teach them to be wary of these, as well as apps that ask for excessive and unnecessary permission to your microphone, storage, location, and other components during installation.

Study kid-specific scams.

It's also important to be aware of scams aimed particularly at kids. Tell them that anything offering freebies should always raise a red flag. If they're unsure whether an offer is legitimate, remind them that they can come to you so you can verify the offer’s trustworthiness together.

Put a spotlight on what could happen.

Emphasize what could happen if your child is victimized. Explain threats to personal information, identity theft, and, most especially, threats to your family's finances and safety. And if, at any point, they come across something and are unsure of what to do, stress that they can always come to you for help. 

Social media platforms also make it easy for predators to engage with your children. They might create fake accounts to build trust with kids through seemingly innocent comments or messages. They then may start to ask your kid to send photos and videos of themselves, make threats, or send inappropriate content to your kid.

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