5 common scams targeting teens – and how to stay safe
From knock-off designer products to too-good-to-be-true job offers, here are five common schemes fraudsters use to trick teenagers out of their money and sensitive data
Most teenagers, while not as impressionable as small children, can still be subjected to various external influences. If you’re one of them, you probably haven’t experienced the many ups and downs life could throw at you, and you may be too eager to trusting and easy to manipulate. And that trusting nature, innocence, and youthful naivety may make you a prime target for scam artists, who are looking to dupe you out of your money or personal data.
Let’s look at some common scams targeting teens and how to stay safe from these schemes. If you’re a parent, you may want to share this advice with your children and help them – and your entire family – stay safe online.
1. Social media scams
With social media being the digital playground for most teenagers, it's only natural that enterprising fraudsters will try to target them where they spend most of their time. Social media scams take on a variety of shapes and sizes, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Some of the more common ones pose as links to tabloid articles with shocking headlines about celebrities; however, once you click on such a link, you’ll be rerouted to a malicious website.
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Alternatively, scammers may contact their victims directly through messages with offers of partaking in competitions or sweepstakes, but again, the shared link will almost certainly redirect the teenager to a fraudulent website that will either infest their devices with malware or try to wrangle their sensitive information from them.
2. Discounted luxury goods
Another common scam that proliferates online, including through fake advertisements posted on social media, involves offers for luxury goods at ridiculously low prices. To make their offers attractive to teens, scammers try to offer brands and goods that would appeal to them, like a limited edition sneakers that are too expensive, clothes from brands that are usually too pricey to afford on a normal allowance or part-time job, or bogus Ray-Ban online stores.
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The ruse consists of creating a fake retail website that offers a wide assortment of these goods; however, once you go through with the purchase, you’ll either receive a knock-off product, or nothing at all. And in the worst-case scenario, if you shared your credit card information, the cybercriminals will rack up charges on it and clean out your bank account.
3. Scholarship scams
As graduation from high school nears, teenagers start looking towards their next step in life; often that entails pursuing a degree at a university. But, depending on where you are attending college, it can turn out to be quite expensive, which leads to a search for a scholarship that would, at least in part, cover tuition fees. Scammers try to prey on students looking for financial aid by creating fraudulent scholarships, which take various forms.
For example, these faux scholarship programs will often require the applicant to pay a “registration fee”; however, there is no scholarship to be had and the fraudster will pocket the fee. Alternatively, the scam can take the form of a scholarship raffle, which will require the participant to pay either a “processing fee” or a “disbursement fee” citing tax costs, but ultimately the result is the same.
4. Employment scams
Being a teenager with a varied set of interests ranging from going to concerts and traveling to being a sneakerhead or fashionista isn’t easy, especially since you can’t cover it all with your allowance. So naturally, you’d want to look for a part-time job to cover your expenses.
To target young jobseekers, cybercriminals create fraudulent employment offers that usually sound too good to be true. The fraudsters will post fake job openings on legitimate job boards and will usually offer positions that allow you to work from home and earn a hefty paycheck. However, the ultimate goal is to farm their targets for their personal information that will then be used in various illicit activities, such as opening bank accounts in their victims' names or use their identities to forge documents.
5. Catfishing scams
As with a lot of things in the digital age, even searching for romance has also transitioned online, and online dating platforms have become rewarding hunting grounds for romance scammers. These fraudsters, however, don’t just stick to dating sites – they often scour social media for their marks and contact them via private messages.
The ruse often consists of impersonating a person that their target will find attractive. The scammer will then proceed to woo them until they achieve their ultimate goal – scam them out of money. Unfortunately, in some cases the cybercriminals opt for abhorrent tactics, such as manipulating their marks into sharing risqué photos and then proceed to blackmail them into paying money, threatening to release the incriminating photos to their loved ones and the public if they don’t pay.
How to protect yourself
While scams targeting teens occur by the boatload, there are ways they can protect themselves against them:
If you stumble upon a job offer that sounds enticing but you’re in doubt about it, run a quick web search on the company to see if anything suspicious comes up. Also, remember that you provide personal information for salary purposes only after you’re hired.
Similar advice applies in the case of scholarships – if you’re on the hunt for one, be sure to check whether the organization offering the scholarship is legitimate by conducting a web search and even contacting their offices directly. And never ever wire any kind of “processing” or “advance” fee.
One of the golden rules of the internet is: “if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is”. So, if you stumble upon a ridiculously priced pair of limited-edition Jordan’s, it’s most assuredly a scam. If you’re still intrigued, do your due diligence on the vendor and research them to see if something comes up.
If you receive an unsolicited message from someone you don’t know, you should remain vigilant especially if it contains a dubious offer or a link. In any case, the best course of action is to ignore the message and you shouldn’t ever click on a link from someone you don’t know
In case a stranger is trying to initiate contact and within a few messages starts professing their undying love for you, it should set your spidey sense tingling. A quick reverse image search should uncover whether they are impersonating someone.
To learn more about more dangers faced by children online as well as about how not only technology can help, head over to the Safer Kids Online platform.