Was your child the victim of a scammer or predator? 10 tips for parents

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If you suspect your child is the target of a scammer or predator online, it’s understandable that you’re feeling scared, angry, and many other emotions.

While you should follow the instructions provided to you by law enforcement or government agencies, these 10 steps are a good place to start when you aren’t sure what to do. 

1. Make sure your child is safe.

First, make sure your child is physically safe. It’s a good idea to remove their devices and internet access temporarily while you sort out how the scammer or predator got in touch with your child and what information that person may now possess. Let your child know you aren’t mad at them, this isn’t a punishment, and they’ll get their devices back as soon as you and the authorities can make sure everything is secure. 

2. Contact the authorities.

Whether you suspect a predator or a scammer targeted your child, contacting the authorities is a good step to take. 

A police report documenting financial fraud can be helpful as you work with financial institutions to retrieve or secure your family’s stolen funds. You’ll typically want to call your police department’s non-emergency number (not 911) or go in person to file a scam and fraud report. 

If a suspected predator is involved you'll need to assess your child's physical and emotional state and decide whether to call 911, ring the closest station directly, or go see a police officer in person. 

3. Contact a hotline for help.

Dedicated hotlines can help your family get connected with the right resources, including therapists. Depending on your child’s experience, you may want to contact one of the following organizations if you’re in the U.S., too:

Teen by window on laptop

4. Document any communication with the perpetrator.

Next, you’ll want to work quickly to document any available communications with the suspected scammer or predator. Once the perpetrator realizes that they’ve been discovered, it’s possible they’ll close accounts or delete messages—so take screenshots if you’re able. 

5. Don’t block accounts or file reports with online platforms (yet)

This may feel counterintuitive, but you’ll want to hold off on blocking the suspected scammer or predator from your child’s accounts. You’ll also want to press pause on contacting the social media or game platform that the predator used to contact your child, too. 

The reason is that once the perpetrator’s account gets blocked and shut down, it may be harder for law enforcement to find them in the real world. Follow the advice of the authorities you’re working with regarding when to block and request the shutdown of a predator or scammer’s account.

6. Contact credit bureaus and government agencies.

If you suspect any financial fraud or identity theft, you’ll want to contact a few different institutions. These can include:

  • Your credit card company and bank
  • The three major U.S. credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax)
  • The Social Security Administration or other government agency responsible for national IDs in your country

It’s important to take these steps even if your child is a minor and doesn’t have a credit card, bank account, or passport. A credit bureau or government agency can help you understand if a scammer is using your child’s identity to open up lines of credit and more. 

7. Reset app and account passwords.

As soon as you’re able, reset the passwords on your child’s online accounts—from social media to any banking apps—even if your child is sure they didn’t reveal personally identifying or financial information.


8. Notify trusted loved ones who could be targeted next.

While it’s important to respect your child’s privacy—and you don’t need to give out specific details about what happened—you may want to let loved ones know to be on the lookout for suspicious messages or calls. Some scammers use identifying information gathered from their targets, or voice cloning technology, to trick family members into thinking their relatives are in trouble. 

9. Get in touch with a professional licensed therapist.

Even if your child seems outwardly the same and says they’re fine, it can still be a good idea to get in touch with a professional therapist who specializes in working with children. 

In the U.S., Psychology Today’s therapist directory is a great place to start. Many countries also have helplines that you can call to be connected with mental health resources in your area.

10. Shore up your digital security at home.

Finally, you may want to take measures to strengthen your digital security at home. This doesn’t mean it was your or your child’s fault that a scammer or predator gained access to your world—it’s not. No system is completely foolproof. But having regular family chats about online safety, monitoring your kids’ screen time, setting up an identity theft monitoring program, and having regular check-ins about online activities can help to keep everyone safe.

Scammers and predators can glean personal information out of sentences and statements that may sound innocuous to you and your child, so it’s a good idea to change the passwords for extra peace of mind. 

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