Teach your teens about these 5 scams

Danger can come from phishing email, 'Instascam'


You've alerted your teen to many dangers lurking in the world, but have you ever had a talk about how to avoid being scammed?

There are plenty of fraudsters out there waiting to prey on your kid via email, social media, the phone and even the good old-fashioned U.S. mail, experts say. But by shining a light on common scams, you can help your teen avoid becoming a victim.

"There aren't any new scams out there," says Robert Siciliano, a fraud expert at "There are new twists on old scams. And there are lots of new twists."

Teach your teens about these 6 scams

Here are five common cons, along with a hands-on way to teach your kid not to fall for each one:

Scam No. 1: Email phishing. A phony email (called phishing) might fool you because the message appears to be coming from a real entity, such as PayPal, UPS or even your bank. The message will urge you to click on a link, which allows fraudsters to either gain remote access to your computer or harvest private information you key in, such as your username, password or Social Security number, says Adam Levin, a nationally recognized fraud expert and New Jersey's former director of consumer affairs. A teen might fall for a phishing email that purports to be from their favorite game asking them to confirm a password change, Levin says. "Then it takes you to a phony sign-in page," he says.

What to teach your teen: Share phishing emails you receive to show your teen how legitimate these communiqués can look. Then, tell your kids that unsolicited emails that request personal information are always suspect, says Jayne Hitchcock, founder of the nonprofit Working To Halt Online Abuse, who often speaks to groups of teens about online security. Teach your child to play detective to check out a questionable email, says John Sileo, a fraud expert and keynote speaker. "That could mean checking a scam detection site like or it could mean calling the service directly," he says. "If an email looks like it's from Target or Apple, call them to ask."

Scam No. 2: The "Instascam." "Tens of millions of teens are obsessed with Instagram, so you have this new wave of what we call 'Instascams,'" Levin says. Fraudsters use the comments section on Instagram, a social media site that lets users snap and upload photos, to target fans of celebrities with get-rich-quick links, Levin says. For example, one comment posted under a Beyonce photo told users to call a number, promising they could make up to $10,000 in 20 minutes. When you call, the scammer asks you to load a prepaid card with cash and promises to add more money digitally, Levin says. "Except they don't. They just conned you out of your money," he says.

Tens of millions of teens are obsessed with Instagram, so you have this new wave of what we call 'Instascams.'

-- Adam Levin
Fraud expert

What to teach your teen: Join your teen's favorite social media platform to keep an eye out for scams. "If you see a scam, take a screen shot and send it to your kid," Levin says. And have a serious talk with your child to advise them never to give out any personal or financial information when approached, Levin says. As for the get rich quick schemes? Teach your kid the old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is."

Scam No. 3: The social engineering ploy. The social engineering scam often happens on social media through an account that's been hijacked, says Tim Walston, vice president of marketing and product at, which offers tools for digital parenting. He says social media account hijacking is on the rise, and about one in four users has been a victim. A fraudster might gain control of a Twitter account, for example, then send a titillating tweet out to followers. "Oh my God! I can't believe somebody said this about me. I'm so f-ing pissed!" read a tweet Walston once received. Curiosity can entice you to click a link, which can install malware on your device, he says.

What to teach your teen: Explain social engineering scams, then play a what-if game with your teen. For example, "What if you got a Facebook message with a link from your best friend that said,  'OMG! You won't believe which boy likes you.' Would you click on the link?" Then ask your teen to come up with a "what if" message you might be tempted to click. And so on. If you run through fake scenarios now, your teen will be more likely to recognize a real social engineering con later, Walston says. Tell your child that if she ever gets a message that seems odd, she should contact the friend through a different communication channel, like a text message, to ask about it, he says.

Scam No. 4: The callback scam. Have you ever gotten a hang-up call on your cell phone from a number you don't recognize? It might be a callback scam, Hitchcock says. "This happened to me just last week," she says, adding that the callers hope you'll get curious and dial the number right back. The scammers are calling from a number with a three-digit area code that appears to be in the United States, but usually comes from the Caribbean, according to the Federal Trade Commission. If you return the call, you get put on hold and hit with hefty per-minute charges plus international calling rates, according to the FTC.

What to teach your teen: First, tell your teen never to pick up or call back when they get a call from a strange number, Hitchcock says. "Tell them, 'If somebody wants to talk to you, they'll leave a message,'" she says. Also, ask your kid to be on the lookout for odd calls and to Google the phone number, with quotes around it, any time they get one. The search might turn up details on the fraudsters and stories from victims that will educate your kids on the scam they just dodged, she says. Learning not to answer the call will also help them avoid being sucked in by other common phone scams, such as the you-just-won-a-cruise con or the one that convinces you a friend or relative is in trouble and needs you to accept charges for a collect call, experts say.

Scam No. 5: The prize winner letter. If you open your junk mail, chances are you regularly come across "special one-time-only" offers, bogus checks made out to you and announcements that you've won big. But does your kid have any experience with these old school scams? A recent one announced "Congratulations! You've won a brand-new Toyota worth $15,500!" The mailing included a fake vehicle registration and told the receiver to mail in $39.95 to claim the car, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the federal law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service. Another common mail scam is the foreign lottery scheme, Siciliano says. Recipients get a letter announcing they've won a lottery in another country, such as Spain's El Gordo lottery. "That's a big one," he says. "There are three pieces of paper asking you for all kinds of personal information so they can wire you the money," he says. There also are fraudsters who pose as the IRS or other government agencies, he says.

What to teach your teen: Print out some examples of mail scams, such as the ones listed by the USPIS and show them to your kid, Siciliano says. You might want to point out that mail scams often include some official-looking touch, such as the fake vehicle registration on the Toyota con or a seal that appears to be from a government entity. Then, give your teen the job of sorting through the family junk mail, asking him to be on the lookout for any fishy letters and to show them to you right away. "A lot of people just toss their junk mail," Siciliano says. "But if you actually open some of that stuff you can see what they're trying to do. It's pretty nefarious."

As you teach your teens about scams, ask questions and encourage them to think about why a certain scam works: for example, if the fraudster uses scare tactics, bribery or flattery, Sileo says. "Let the child comment on and draw their own conclusions," he says.

And consider playing an ongoing scam hunting game to engage your kid even more, experts say. Offer a "bounty" of $5 or $10 for each scam your teen comes across and alerts you to, with a bonus if your kid can explain what tactics the fraudster is using, Siciliano says: "Money motivates kids."

The scammers certainly know that, after all.

See related: How to stop sending mixed money messages to your kids, Game on: Digital tools teach kids money lessons through play

Published: October 28, 2014

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