Educating Teens about Online Fraud

Teenagers have been active users of social media for years, and with schools across the country closed for months now and social distancing rules drastically limiting opportunities to interact with friends, their online activity has only increased. Not surprisingly, many cyber criminals are turning to social media as a means of targeting teenagers, and it seems that their efforts are paying off. Financial institutions have begun issuing warnings for scams that prey on the naivete of teenagers by using the promise of easy money to pique their interest.

Much like scams targeting the elderly, fraudsters promise teenagers the opportunity to make some quick money in exchange for their assistance with simple tasks, such as making mobile check deposits to help test the efficiency of a bank’s mobile platform –or other similar scenarios. Once a check has been deposited, teens are asked to send the money, less the portion they are told to keep for themselves, to the individual or “organization” that has contacted them using peer-to-peer payment services such as Venmo or by sending gift cards to an address that they are provided. By the time the teenagers find out that the checks are phony, it is too late, and they are left having to pay back the funds they have sent on to the criminals.

The only difference between these scams and identical efforts targeting the elderly is the way that contact is made. While criminals tend to target the elderly through phone calls and emails, when it comes to teenagers, they are reaching out where teens are most active and tend to be extremely trusting –social media, texts and even dating websites. And given that teens tend to be quick to share such offers with their friends through social media, these scams can be incredibly effective and far-reaching as teenagers pass these offers on at breakneck speed. In some instances, fraudsters have even convinced teenagers that they will pay them for sharing their social security number or other important account information.

Parents of teenagers or young children old enough to be online by themselves should take the opportunity to drive home the reality that there is no such thing as free money and that anyone offering you a way to make some quick, easy money should not be trusted. Make sure your children are aware of the importance of never sharing personal information such as their social security number, bank account numbers or passwords, mobile phone number or any sort of personal information about themselves or your family.

Children should also be educated about the basics of banking and how checking accounts work. In a world where mobile payments have become the norm, many kids do not understand the reality that checks do not instantly clear once they have been deposited, or that the individual who deposits a check is the one left on the hook if it bounces. Kids should also understand the reality that money sent through peer-to-peer payment services such as Venmo or Zelle is gone once it has been sent and cannot be retrieved. It is equally important that they understand what kind of harm can result by sharing information such as social security numbers and the long-term damage that it can do to their identities.

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