7 ways to teach your kids about online scams


Teach your kids about online scams to help them avoid becoming a victim. Think of it as an ongoing conversation with children and teens that you need to build on.

Parents say that parenting is harder than ever now, and screens are a big reason. In addition to worrying about screen time and cyberbullying, parents also face another big issue: online scams that target kids. 

The best thing you can do to help your child avoid becoming a victim: Teach your kids about online scams. Keep in mind that teaching children and teens about online scams isn't a one-and-done event. Think of it more like an ongoing conversation, with each lesson building on the last one. 

With that in mind, here are seven ways to teach kids about online scams.

1. Talk to your child about online scams. 

Start by bringing up the topic of online scams with your kids and make it a two-way conversation. Ask if they know about online scammers and if they can think of any examples of scams. This way, you can find out what they do and don't know about scams. And you can get them interested by telling them they can help fight the online "bad guys" by putting on their detective hat, learning how scammers work and watching out for scams.

2. Give your kid an overview of online scams. 

Scammers are always coming up with new twists on old scams, but the basics tend to stay the same. There are phishing scamssmishing scamsvishing scams and even scams that specifically target kids.

Give your child a quick lesson about the different kinds of scams that exist, the main  tactics that scammers use, and what scammers are trying to get. For example, tell them scammers may: 

  • Send you a text message
  • Leave you a voicemail
  • Send you an email that looks like it comes from a friend
  • Run an online ad
  • Post a scam on social media 

And let them know that scammers may have a variety of goals: to get money, to get your personal information so they can steal your identity, to take over and use your email or social media accounts or to infect your device with malware

3. Show examples of scams that target kids. 

There's nothing like a concrete example to drive home a point when teaching kids about something new, including online scams. Kids may be especially interested in learning about scams directed at children and teens.  

Here are some examples of scams that target kids. 

Contest and prize scams 

Scammers know that contest scams are a great way to target kids. They may get an invitation to enter a fake contest or receive a notification that they won a big prize like free pizza for a year or a new iPad. They may have to click a link or fill out a form to enter the contest or claim the "prize."

Fake freebies and deals

A child may get an offer for a free toy, "hot" new product, or a great deal on an electronic item or other product they want. They may be asked to pay for a "discounted" item they'll never get.  

Scholarship scams 

A child or teen may be targeted to apply for a scholarship that seems legit but is actually a scam. For scholarship scams, a child may be asked to provide an array of personal data such as name, address, and Social Security number on the "application." Or they may be asked to pay a big fee to apply.  

Phony talent competitions or casting scams 

A child may get an invitation to compete in a casting call or talent contest for acting, singing, or sports. Scammers use big dreams or the promise of fame and money to lure kids into these scams, and they may ask for a big entry fee to participate. 

Scammers may use different tactics and have varying goals for any of these scams. Tell  your child to be wary of any offer they find online.

4. Show your child how to protect devices.

As a parent, you look out for your whole family when it comes to cybersafety and security. That means installing antivirus software on your devices, performing regular updates, and possibly using a VPN for added protection. You might consider a trusted security software such as Norton 360 Deluxe

Instead of a boring chore, these tasks can become educational moments that allow you to teach your kids about online scams and cybersecurity. Enlist your kids to help you choose antivirus software, install it and do updates. And use that time together to re-open the conversation about how basic security measures are an important first step toward avoiding online scams. Explain that by securing your devices, you're closing doors through which an online "bad guy" could enter to target you or your child.

5. Put family guidelines in place for device use.

Involve your kids in setting cybersecurity guidelines for the whole family. There's a lot to think about and remember when it comes to online scams. Family "rules" make it simple for your child to remember how to help protect themselves against scams. And by letting your kids help set family guidelines, they'll learn more and be more invested in following these rules.  

Examples of family guidelines you might choose to put in place include these: 

  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi.
  • Don't provide personal information online.
  • Protect your accounts with a strong password and multifactor authentication.
  • Never click on a link unless you're sure it's legit.
  • Don't ever talk to strangers online, even those who claim to be kids.
  • Don't pay for anything unless you initiated the transaction with a trusted seller.
  • Run contests and offers past a parent. 

By encouraging your child to come to you when they're not sure about an "offer," you open the door for more teaching moments in the future.

6. Talk about scams with kids to hone critical thinking skills

Critical thinking is an important life skill, and you can help your kids develop it while teaching them about online scams. Talk about the phrase "too good to be true" and ask your kids what it means to them and why they think the saying exists.

Ask about hypothetical situations, like "What if you say an ad for an iPhone for $25?  What would you think? What would you do?" 

Finally, get your kids to brainstorm ways they might be able to spot a scam. Help them to come up with answers like: an offer that seems too good to be true, a link that looks weird, copy with lots of misspellings, and phrases like "act now!"

7. Encourage your kids to teach others.

There's a saying that teaching is one of the best ways to learn. Encourage your kids to put their newfound knowledge to use by teaching others about scams, specifically online scams that target kids. This might include talking to their friends about scams or doing a report, show-and-tell presentation or other school project about scams.  

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Allie Johnson
  • Allie Johnson
  • Freelance Writer
Allie Johnson is a freelance journalist who covers cybersecurity, privacy, and consumer topics. She has written for Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Discover.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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