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Online Scams: What Parents Need to Know & Expert Tips

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A recent study by the Better Business Bureau indicates a sharp increase in internet fraud over the past few years. As young people gain access to the internet and social media at earlier ages, it's crucial to educate them about potential online scams and ways to steer clear of them. Even though scammers continually refine their tactics to prey on individuals of all ages, the involvement of parents remains the best safeguard for children.

We reached out to 14 specialists for advice on how parents can teach their children to recognize and avoid internet scams.

1. Reenact an online scam

Aura De Los Santos

Aura De Los Santos, Clinical Psychologist, Specialist at Healthcanal 

Internet scams are becoming more and more commonplace. A vulnerable population to these scams are children who can be easily manipulated by scammers. There are ways parents can help ensure that their children do not fall victim to online scams.

  • Talk to your children about scams: The first thing is to start with an awareness talk about the dangers that exist when using the internet and specifically social media. Explain to them how people impersonate others, what elements to consider, and what to do if they feel that someone is trying to scam them 
  • Show videos to your kids about what an internet scam looks like: Videos can give kids a clearer idea about how internet scam is carried out 
  • Reenact an internet scam situation: A fun way for parents to teach their children about the internet scam is by doing demonstrations. At home, you can recreate a scenario with cell phones about what the internet scam is and at the same time, parents can guide their children to respond correctly
  • Create a bond of trust with children: Many times, children fall for internet scams because they are afraid or do not have a close relationship with their parents to talk about this or any other topic. Parents must create a bond with their children so they comment on the first red flag and take the necessary actions 

2. AI makes scam emails look legit

Sarah Kimmel

Sarah Kimmel, Family Tech

Online scammers are now using AI tools such as ChatGPT to help produce more realistic scam emails and material. One of the key indicators of a spam or scam email was the poor grammar, but now with AI to assist in writing these emails they look a lot more legitimate and make it easier to fall for.

The main thing to look for in an email is how it makes you feel. If you read an email and it makes your heart start racing and it makes you want to react right away, you need to step back and breathe and think about what the email is asking you to do. It won't be as obvious with the grammar and will sound extremely realistic. If it says it's from a specific brand or company, don't click on any links in the email. Type in the company's website in a new browser, and go to the main URL and search for the information that is in the email.

3. Prevention & education

Anthony Buzzetta

Anthony Buzzetta CEO & Founder of AI & tech company G TIER®

When it comes to teaching your kids how to avoid scams online, the best approach is through prevention and education. Prevention tactics include setting up parental controls on computers and monitoring internet usage. Education strategies should be used to explain the dangers of online scams, as well as how to identify them.

  • Educate yourself on the types of online scams so you can explain to your children what they are and how to recognize them. This includes discussing phishing emails, fake ads, bogus websites, social media accounts, etc., with your child
  • Discuss appropriate online behavior such as avoiding clicking questionable links or sharing personal information like passwords or credit card numbers with anyone online
  • Implement a family policy in which all family members agree not to give out any personal information without consulting a parent first. This can help protect against identity theft or other forms of fraud by leaving fewer entry points for criminals who may try to target children via their parents’ financial data or email address book contacts
  • Set rules in regards to interacting with strangers, for example never respond directly to emails from people they don’t know; if needed, contact a trusted adult (like yourself) first before responding.  This could prevent potential harm such as ransomware attacks or worse scenarios due to an unsafe exchange of information with someone unknown over the internet
  • Utilize age-appropriate tools such as browser extensions that automatically block malicious content, kid-friendly browsers that filter dangerous website categories like gambling sites, or gaming consoles that allow parents control over what games their kids play  

By taking these proactive measures you're providing your children with both knowledge and safety when navigating through cyberspace - giving them the confidence needed for confident net users capable enough at spotting potential threats posed by scammers using clever tactics designed specifically towards deceiving unsuspecting minors.

4. Evaluate online sources

Angelo Sorbello

Angelo Sorbello, founder, Digitale.co

One of the best ways to teach children about internet scams and how to avoid them is to start by teaching them the basics of digital literacy. This includes teaching them how to identify and evaluate a legitimate website, how to recognize phishing attempts, and how to spot fake news. Additionally, it's important to teach them about the importance of strong passwords and the risks of sharing personal information online.

Parents should also teach their children about the importance of being aware of their digital footprint. This includes understanding the potential consequences of posting inappropriate content, as well as the risks of engaging with strangers online. Finally, parents should also discuss the importance of being mindful of the amount of time their children spend online and the potential for online addiction.

5. Play ‘Spot the Scam’

Alexander Alexakis

Alex Alexakis, founder and CEO of PixelChefs

When it comes to teaching kids, one of the most effective approaches is to transform the learning process into a fun and engaging game, “Spot the Scam”. The game is simple.  Show children different examples of emails, messages, websites, ads, or pop-ups that are either legitimate or fraudulent, and have them guess which ones are scams and which ones are not. For each example explain why it is a scam or not, what are the signs to look for, and what to do if they encounter something similar. 

For an email that claims to be from a bank asking for bank account details, tell them that it is a phishing scam that tries to steal their personal financial information. Point out the spelling errors, the generic salutation, the suspicious sender address, and the urgent tone of the email. Remind them to never click on any links or attachments in such emails, and to always check the official website or contact number of their bank before giving out any information.

I play this game once a week for about 15 minutes with my kids. The game is fun and educational for both me and my children. It helps them develop critical thinking skills, digital literacy skills, and cyber awareness skills. It also sparks interesting conversations about online safety, privacy, and ethics.

6. Teach children to never click

Iesha Mulla

Iesha Mulla, Co-Founder, Parental Questions

As a parent, it's important to teach our children about internet scams and how to avoid them. Here are some tips that can help:

1. Talk openly with your kids about their online activities; let them know you're available for questions or if they need guidance in dealing with suspicious emails or messages.

2. Explain the concept of phishing scams, and how scammers try to trick people into giving away personal information through malicious links or convincing messages.

3. Teach your children to never click on links from strangers and be wary of attachments containing viruses or malware.

4. Introduce your children to password security best practices such as creating unique passwords for each account and changing them frequently. Teach them not share passwords with anyone else, no matter how much they trust someone else online (even family members).

5. Show your children reliable sources of news stories so they can compare stories from different outlets instead of trusting unvetted social media posts without further research. Encourage critical thinking when reading articles online so they don't get tricked by false news stories presented as real ones.

6. Spend quality time together doing activities that don't involve the internet; this will reduce screen time, strengthen your bond as a family, and help you stay aware of any online issues they may be facing.

7. Make sure to install security software on all devices, set up parental controls, and adjust privacy settings to limit access to certain websites or content.

8. Keep up to date with the latest scams, so you can warn your children about them and help protect yourself as well.

7. Introduce ethical hacking concepts

Daniel Pfeffer

Daniel Pfeffer, Owner/CEO, Keysearch, Inc.

  • Gamify learning: Transform the process of learning about internet scams into an engaging game by creating quizzes and scenarios that simulate real-life online situations. This interactive approach encourages active participation and helps children develop critical thinking skills
  • Collaborate with children: Involve children in researching and identifying common scams. This collaborative effort enhances their understanding of scams, their tactics, and how to spot warning signs. It also strengthens the parent-child bond and empowers children to be proactive in protecting themselves online
  • Utilize digital literacy programs: Take advantage of digital literacy programs and online safety resources specifically designed for children. These resources provide age-appropriate educational content, interactive games, and materials that can assist parents in teaching their children about scams
  • Stay updated on trending scams: Regularly stay informed about the latest scams and discuss specific examples with your children. Websites like the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Advice page and the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker provide up-to-date information on scams, including testimonials and real-life experiences
  • Introduce ethical hacking concepts: For older children and teenagers, introduce the concept of ethical hacking and its importance in promoting ethical online behavior. Encourage them to participate in activities like Capture The Flag (CTF) competitions or learn about bug bounties, which can help them understand how cybercriminals operate and develop a sense of caution
  • Foster open conversations: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment for children to discuss their online experiences, concerns, and questions. Initiate conversations about online scams and encourage them to share any suspicious encounters or emails they receive. Regular check-ins help gauge their online experiences and provide guidance without being overly restrictive
  • Teach privacy and security measures: Educate children about the importance of protecting their personal information online. Teach them to use strong, unique passwords, employ two-factor authentication, and be cautious when sharing personal details. Introduce them to privacy settings on social media platforms and discuss the potential consequences of oversharing
  • Encourage critical thinking: Promote critical thinking skills by teaching children to question information they encounter online. Teach them to verify the credibility of sources, fact-check information before accepting it as truth, and be wary of persuasive or manipulative tactics commonly used by scammers

8. 'Family Hackathon'

Tyler Seeger

Tyler Seeger, Managing Director, Retirement Being

The premise here is to take something that could be considered tedious or intimidating (like enhancing our digital security) and turn it into a fun, engaging, and family-oriented event!

Think of the 'Family Hackathon' as a game night, but with a cybersecurity twist. Set aside an afternoon or an evening, and gather your family around the dining room table, each with your mobile devices in hand - computers, tablets, and phones. The goal of this 'game' is to 'hack-proof' your digital life, and the winner could be the person who completes the tasks fastest or perhaps the one who made the most improvements to their digital security.

To kick things off, you can start with something as simple as updating all the operating systems on all of your mobile devices. Software updates often include critical security patches, so staying up-to-date is essential. Next, tackle passwords. Teach your children the importance of unique, strong passwords for each online account. If they don't use one already, you could introduce them to a password manager - these tools are excellent for generating and storing secure passwords.

Then, you can explore two-factor authentication (2FA). Many online services offer 2FA, which adds an extra layer of security to your accounts. Walk your kids through setting up 2FA for their accounts, explaining why it's important. Check privacy and security settings on social media accounts and discuss the importance of not oversharing personal information. You can also take this opportunity to talk about identifying and handling suspicious messages or friend requests.

To conclude the event, celebrate everyone's efforts with a treat, or declare the most diligent 'cybersecurity agent' as the winner. Remember, the aim is to educate and foster safe online habits while making the process enjoyable and engaging. A 'Family Hackathon' can be a great tool to achieve that, and I promise you, it'll be a family event everyone remembers!

9. Discuss popular scams

Ryan Ratkowski

Ryan Ratkowski, Digital Marketing Expert & Founder, Cascade Interactive

Here's something from my own experience. A client of mine had their teenage son fall for a scholarship scam that promised an exclusive summer program. The email was cleverly designed and even had a brand logo to make it appear genuine. The son, eager and excited, filled out the form providing sensitive information. The family came to know about it when they received a call from their bank about suspicious transactions. Thankfully, they were able to mitigate the issue, but it served as a wake-up call for them and for me as well.

I strongly believe in the adage forewarned is forearmed. The first thing you need to do as a parent is to learn about the world your children will be stepping into. Educate yourself about the different online scams - be it free trial offers that take your credit card details, dubious Wi-Fi hotspots that can siphon off data, enticing messages claiming to have won prizes, or insidious pop-ups that mask the malware.

When we talk about helping kids identify scams, we need to help them read the signs. For instance, it's vital to help them understand that any communication filled with spelling or grammatical errors, especially if it claims to be from a trusted source, should be treated with suspicion.

Have a chat about the 'foreign prince' scam. It may seem laughable to adults, but children may not be so discerning. Similarly, explain how emotional manipulation works. Scammers can play on feelings like loneliness or financial stress to extract personal information.

And then there's the talent search scams including the one that got my client's son. Teach your kids to be skeptical of any talent searches or scholarships that demand upfront fees. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Encourage open communication. It's okay if they accidentally click on a pop-up or respond to a phishing email. Make sure they feel comfortable enough to come and tell you. Limiting internet time can also be an effective way to control their exposure until they become savvy enough to navigate the web themselves.

Remember, teaching kids about internet scams isn't a one-off session. It's an ongoing conversation. Keep yourself updated about the latest scams and pass that information on to your kids. Make it a habit to talk about these things over dinner or during car rides. Anytime, anywhere is a good time for this chat.

10. Develop a family guide

Kristin Bertolero, Ed.D. headshot
Kristin Bertolero, Ed.D.

Dr. Kristin Bertolero, New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education

Provide examples of the online scams your child is most likely to see. This depends upon: the sites they visit most frequently and their frequently used search terms. You can look for the latest scams at: Federal Trade Commission Most Recent Scam Alerts.

Now that you have identified the most relevant scams, go through their frequently used search terms and websites. Screen shot the images or interactions within these sites that specifically target your child.

Now, have a conversation with your child. Find a scam that they’re likely to come across online or on social media.

  • Call your child over and ask them to check it out
  • Ask them what they think. “Should you go for it?
  • Follow up with a “Why or why not”

Once you gain some understanding into your child’s background knowledge you can target where they need help. They may have heard this lecture every time they turn on a computer in school. So you don’t want this exchange to end in an eye roll.

  • Show them some information you found about the scam. Sharing any real life examples from children their own age is best
  • Ask them how they would prevent themselves from becoming a victim
  • Use this time to ask guiding questions, those that are open ended. This has a bigger impact than spouting information
  • Finally, show them an example from their preferred sites. This helps to make an abstract concept relevant to them
  • Go through the steps again, asking what they know about this particular scam
  • Then ask them how can they prevent themselves from becoming a victim

Develop a family guide that includes a few quick pointers on what to do, or where to go when they come across a scam and have an impulse to enter/click or fill out a form. Keep this plan visible where your child uses their devices the most.

11. Use examples your children can relate to

Brandon Ackroyd headshot
Brandon Ackroyd
Brandon Ackroyd, Tiger Mobiles

When it comes to teaching children about online scams, keep it simple and use examples they can relate to. The main scam children need to know about is phishing.

In very basic terms, phishing is when someone tricks someone else into giving personal information. This is actually easier than you'd think to explain to a child. Consider sharing real-life examples that your child can relate to. Things like trying to get their siblings to tell them what they're getting as a birthday present.

When someone is phishing, the personal information (or “secrets”) they might try to get from their victim might be your username on Fortnite, your phone number, or a password. Children instinctively understand secrets, so these kinds of explanations should make sense to them. The important thing to remind your child of is that all information is private unless you're talking to close family members. When in doubt, don't say anything, should be the rule! In the same way that you shouldn’t to talk to strangers on the street, you shouldn't talk to strangers on the phone- whether that stranger is calling, texting, or messaging inside a game or app. Stranger danger is just as important in phone calls or online, as it is in real life.

12. Properly trained students are the greatest defense

Eric Hobbs headshot
Eric Hobbs
Eric Hobbs, Technology Associates

You can put every protection available against phishing scams out there, but properly trained people are still the greatest defense there is against these scams.

And as a parent myself, I would advise other parents to teach their child to identify and most importantly, understand the consequences of phishing scams as soon as they have the ability to access the Internet or own a mobile device.

Also, encourage your kids to think critically. Don't underestimate your kids. If they can browse online, they can understand your explanation on how phishing scams work and what could happen if they aren't cautious. So the more honest you are, the more prepared they will be.

13. Identify scams together

Ian McClarty headshot
Ian McClarty
Ian McClarty, PhoenixNAP Global IT Services

As the internet changes, we all need to stay on top of what is new, what is evolving, and how we interact with each other. This is especially important for children.

Setting the correct expectations on how the internet works is a good start. Believe it or not, our children will in all likelihood pick up technology as it evolves quicker than we do as adults. However, the expectations on behavior, awareness, and overall conduct are something parents have a firm opportunity to provide influence over.

Creating an understanding of how people attempt to fool or collect information through scams should be as commonplace as the “don't talk to strangers” conversation. Identifying scams or malicious information together creates a safe atmosphere rather than conditioning a child for fearing consequence.

Outside of learning and educating together, parents should also put basic protection in place. Have family members subscribe to a password manager so that strong passwords are routine rather than a hassle. Add a router-based malware scanning system to your home network. Install ad-blocking software to prevent tracking. Educate your children on location services and why they are a feature but also a security risk.

As long as an open dialogue is present in a household, security when it comes to the internet and our modern devices is less of a reactive situation and much more proactive in nature. When we learn and grow together by sharing knowledge and information, everyone benefits.

14. Teach your children to spot fraudulent emails

Brandon Schroth headshot
Brandon Schroth
Brandon Schroth, Gillware Data Recovery

Fraudulent emails come in all shapes and sizes, but I’ll share some tips to help families easily identify them. If you receive an email where the “To” field is left blank, it’s a clear signal that it didn’t come from the perceived sender. When an email from a company has spelling errors or bad grammar, it should be another warning sign. Large companies have copywriters and editors who make sure email communications are grammatically correct. Also, if the email begins with “Hello” but doesn’t actually state your name, that’s another red flag.

When checking your email, stay suspicious and alert. Often times a fraudulent email will try to scare you by saying something was stolen or that you’ve won a prize. Rather than clicking on links from your email, just go directly to the actual website and sign in how you normally would. You should also have some form of internet security installed. Check out the SmartSocial.com Parental Control Software Guide to find tools to help protect your family’s internet security.

More resources for parents


Parents can’t solely rely on security software to protect their kids from scams online. Instead, parents should focus on having regular discussions, monitoring their child’s online activity, sharing examples of scams, creating a safe environment for when mistakes are made, and developing a guide that their children can use if they come across a scam online.

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