How to Teach Your Kids About Online Scams

Quick Answer

Kids are naturally curious and trusting, which unfortunately makes them a popular target for online scammers. That’s why it’s essential to educate yourself and teach your kids about online scams.

A father looks at a computer screen that his daughter is pointing to.

Whether it's for remote school, gaming or connecting with friends, going online is a part of everyday life for most kids. But even the savviest kids may not know the danger that lurks behind their screens from cybercriminals looking to manipulate them into online scams.

So how do parents and guardians protect their children from digital scammers? You can teach your kids about online scams by first learning more yourself, then informing your kids how to spot and avoid common scams. Here's how:

1. Educate Yourself About Common Online Scams

An online scammer's primary goal is typically to get your personal information and money. To accomplish these objectives, scammers may employ a wide variety of tactics, including these common approaches:

  • Phishing: Phishing is when someone sends you a fake email that mimics a reputable company in an attempt to get you to share your personal information like passwords, account information and credit card numbers.
  • Smishing: Smishing is nearly identical to phishing, except the scammer sends an SMS text message rather than an email to lure your personal or financial information out of you.
  • Online shopping scams: In this case, the scammers set up fake websites or ads on genuine retail sites to try and steal from unsuspecting shoppers.
  • Get-rich-quick schemes: Your child or teen may come across malicious ads from websites or email messages falsely promising substantial income with little or no work involved. These scams often request money upfront to cover training, supplies or various fees.
  • Formjacking: Formjacking is a new cyberthreat that happens when hackers take over a legitimate e-commerce site and redirect you to their own pages in the payment process. These scammers then grab your credit card information when you enter it into their payment forms.
  • Sweepstakes, prizes and lotteries: Kids may enjoy reading an email telling them they've just won a prize for a contest they didn't enter. Unfortunately, these scams usually require you to pay money or open an account to claim your prize—your biggest clue is that it is a scam.

Adults are just as likely to come across scams as kids, so it's good to understand what you're up against before you share your knowledge with your children.

2. Teach Your Kids How to Spot Scams

Teaching your kids about online scams starts with a two-way conversation. You can gauge their current knowledge level by asking them what they know about online scammers and what scams they are aware of.

Inform your kids about online criminals who take advantage of their natural curiosity by luring them into their schemes using different tactics such as:

  • Sending emails that look like they're from a friend
  • Posting scams on social media
  • Sending text messages urging you to click a link
  • Placing online ads

Explain that one of the easiest ways to identify online scams is by their attempt to trick kids and adults alike into handing over their personal or financial information.

Along these lines, one of the most crucial lessons your child can learn is the importance of privacy. Never give personal information to anyone online, whether it comes via email, text, chat or other form of online communication. They should also know not to share information when playing games, using social media platforms or doing other online activities.

3. Show Your Kids Examples of Scams That Target Children

While a conversation is a great way to teach your children about online scams, showing them real-world examples of scams targeting children and teens may pique their interest even more.

For example, scammers know that kids love contests and prizes, so many send messages to kids informing them they've won a contest, lottery or prize such as a new iPad. But the scam soon becomes apparent when they ask for money to claim the prize or increase your chances of winning. Of course, if you pay the money or give your account information, you'll lose your money and discover the prize is fake.

4. Explain What They Should Do If They Spot a Scam

Your family should have a plan in place if your child spots a scam. First, your kids should let you know about scams they encounter immediately. Here are actions you might consider adding to your plan:

  • Pause before following a potential scammer's instructions. Scammers typically try to pressure their victims into making a bad decision before they have time to think. If your child suspects they've come across a scam, they should avoid doing whatever the suspected scammer wants them to, such as clicking a link or sharing personal information.
  • Block suspected scammers promptly. Perhaps the best way to deal with cybercriminals is to cease communication with them altogether. As such, block unwanted calls and text messages and filter spam emails to limit the chances these messages will even get to your child.
  • Don't click email or text links. If you get a message from a business you have an account with, avoid clicking on any links. Instead, contact the company directly using a URL you trust or look up the correct phone number and call them directly to verify the validity of the message.
  • Report the scam. If you are a victim of a scam or believe you've encountered one, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission.

5. Set Up Safeguards

Understandably, your kid may make a mistake, as online scams are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect. That's why it's good to set up safeguards like parental controls to help them combat cyber scammers.

For example, if your kids have their own devices or you let them use yours, create strong passwords and set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on apps containing personal or financial information. Doing so may allow your kids to browse, game and interact with friends more securely.

It's also nice to know that many popular apps like Snapchat and TikTok allow you to disable certain features that are potentially risky for kids. For example, you might consider hiding your child's profile from appearing in search results, limiting their conversations to friends only or turning off the chat feature altogether.

Monitor Your Credit and Identity

Even if you are vigilant in avoiding online scams, monitoring your credit and identity for signs of identity theft and fraudulent activity may make sense. With Experian's free credit monitoring, you can get real-time alerts if the service detects changes in your personal information or suspicious activity. You can also enroll in Experian IdentityWorks℠ for identity theft monitoring and dark web surveillance. It also offers fraud resolution and identity theft insurance up to $1 million to help you recoup costs if you are ever a victim of identity theft.