Weekly Scam Alert: Scams Targeting Your Children

With the boom of the internet age, parents and educators have been afforded opportunities that they would have never had before – access to information on parenting and child-rearing, to communities of folks who can relate to whatever situation they find themselves in, and to resources for the education of their children and teens. But all good things also come with goldbricks. Scam artists don’t stop at the sick, the elderly, and the unemployed. Children and teens are also a big market for fraudsters.  As a result, it is incumbent upon parents, as consumers, to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect loved ones. Here are things to know to keep children from becoming victims:

Scams are taking place when you don’t even know it

Ever wonder how your child received that certain toy catalog in the mail even though he hadn’t signed up for it? It was by no miracle. Recently the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an extensive investigation on the astonishing number of tracking tools (cookies, adware, spyware and malware) that are unknowingly installed on websites designed for children and teenagers. These tools grab tidbits of information about your child, from any personal information they provide, to their interests, to surfing habits, all to sell to private companies or marketers. The WSJ article revealed something even more disturbing – one of the websites (y8.com) under investigation, while featuring kids’ games, also had connections to a pornography website. The two websites shared the same base address for a time period, and it’s uncertain how y8.com used the information it received from users (something else WSJ discovered – that data provided by users to websites wasn’t always managed well). Just another reason to stay on top of where your children go online. How do you circumvent this type of corporate spying on your kids? Privatize your home computers: adjust privacy settings and erase cookies and internet history with frequency (once to twice a week at the very minimum). The Wall Street Journal provides an interactive to help parents know how to adjust privacy settings and erase these tracking tools.

Scammers know what children like, based solely on the nature of children

These scheming businesses know that children don’t have their own paychecks and wallets so the opportunity to get things “for free”, like online games, videogame cheat sheets, iPods, tickets to see High School Musical on stage, opportunities to meet Twilight stars, etc., is hard to resist. CBS News reported last November about the tricky tactics of games like Farmville and Mafia Wars, popular among adults, children and teens alike. Oftentimes these types of games have advertisements on the side that entice children with things such as “Free game currency by completing this easy survey!” Clicking on ads like this may require access to the person’s Facebook account, leading to messages sent to all the users’ friends, who, chances are, are Farmville players also. The goal of the “easy survey”? For as many users as possible to provide personal information, including cell phone numbers and codes, which would be used to charge cell phone bills. The more surveys, the more charges, until the bill comes home at the end of the month. By the time parents realize this, the damage has been done. Websites like Neopets were also reported by Fox News to have lurking fraudsters. Phishing emails are sent to users, generally pre-teens who participate in that activity, which send them to third-party websites. One click can send malware into your family computer, grabbing any and all information, including online banking usernames and passwords and other intangible valuables.

Victimization can happen in seconds

The internet has provided a breeding ground for pedophiles and perverts. Just with the wrong search term or accepting a new but seemingly innocuous friend on Facebook, Myspace, or any other social networking website, your son or daughter may be opening up the doors to potential predators. The Wichita Eagle reported in October of 2009 that a man posing to be a 19-year-old girl on Facebook had gotten a handful of boys to send him nude photos of themselves. When his house was searched, the perpetrator was caught with evidence of child pornography by the hundreds. While no parent wants to think of this happening to their child, it happens to unassuming families more often than we think. Not to mention the situations that take place in which parents never find out or find out too late. Everyone knows that establishing rules makes for a smoother household. That couldn’t be truer for surfing the internet either.Practice good old-fashioned parent monitoring. In addition to putting the family computer(s) in a public place and installing software to block websites and monitor online behavior (check with your local computer experts), make and post rules next to the computer. Here are the most basic ones:

  • Never give any personal information out online (including photos, name, email, phone number, address etc.) without a parent’s presence.
  • Never chat with people you don’t know.
  • Never agree to meet anyone you don’t know.
  • Never click on links without a parent present.

For teenagers, keeping these rules as part of a mutual contract or agreements would be more age-appropriate.

Don’t underestimate your children

There are a few truisms about children that I repeat in my dayjob as an educator and private school director. One of them is to never underestimate the ability of a child or teenager to be self-aware and to self-monitor. Teach your son or daughter about the dangers of the internet; let them take part in their own advocacy. Children have a remarkable way of stepping it up and taking responsibility for their actions. Involve your son or daughter in computer maintenance. As a household chore, in addition to doing the dishes or taking out the trash, your child can have the weekly or biweekly chore of clearing the internet history and tracking tools as well as running any spyware or antivirus programs.

Tips & Resources

These days there are quite a few resources that make learning about internet safety a fun activity also: Parents can download a small booklet from the Federal Trade Commission that explains how to talk to kids and teens about online safety. If your child likes games, the following are entertaining ways to teach him/her about internet safety: AT&T Internet Safety Connections game and Wombat Security’s Anti-phishing Phil game for children and pre-teens; OnGuard Online’s Spam Scam Slam game for teens. Gamequarium has a bevy of internet safety games for kids. One last tip is to encourage your little ones to use kid-friendly search engines, like Kidsclick.org, which are designed to filter out inappropriate material. Google “kid-friendly search engine site: .org” for more options. About the author: Tran Nguyen Templeton is the program advisor of Colegio Monarch Guatemala, a therapeutic school for children with neurobehavioral disabilities. Tran holds a Masters Degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Image source