Online Scams: What Parents Need to Know & Expert Tips

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February 4, 2019

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Online Scams: What Parents Need to Know & Expert Tips Expert Guest Blog

According to a recent report from the Better Business Bureau, internet fraud has skyrocketed in recent years. With students having access to social media and the internet younger and younger, it’s important that they’re taught about online scams and how to avoid becoming a victim. Scammers are constantly updating their techniques so that anyone at any age can become their target. While there are a bunch of security softwares parents can use, nothing is going to protect your kids better than you.

So, we asked 7 experts to share ways parents can teach their kids about online scams and how to avoid becoming involved with them.

1. Develop a guide that includes what to do, or where to go when they come across a scam

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 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.

2. Teach your children to ask you for permission before downloading apps

Josh Ochs headshot
Josh Ochs
Josh Ochs,

Nothing is better than having regular discussions with your children that teach them how to think critically about the content they come across online. If you’re actively involved and regularly monitoring your children, you are better prepared to step in if something happens.

A few things parents can teach their children to help them avoid being scammed online:

  • Don’t open emails or private messages from unknown senders
  • If something seems too good to be true then it probably is
  • Ask before downloading any apps onto the computer or their phone
  • Never share personal information on social media
  • Don’t share your passwords with your friends

To get ahead of your kids, develop a social media safety plan for your family, and get access to our free tool which helps you monitor your kids online in less than 5 minutes, join our newsletter.

3. Acknowledge that your kids will fail at spotting scams, fail fast and cheap, and help them learn

Adam Stetzer headshot
Adam Stetzer
Adam Stetzer, Ph.D., HubShout

Teaching kids how to spot and avoid online scams is a critical skill in 2019. It will only get more important as the dominance of online life continues.

Have your kid open their own joint bank account at an early age
Walk with them to the bank. Have them fill out as much paper work as possible. Make the experience as real as possible by making them talk to the person behind the desk. You can do all of online but don't. The experience will reinforce the serious nature of personal finance which will help them develop a more protective attitude about online scams.

Give your child a little money to play with in their account
The autonomy of making decisions on their own is intoxicating at first. Allow them to move through this process as early as possible with very small amounts of money. It has to be real. This can't be done with fake money or your money. They have to be in the driver’s seat.

Review your child’s bank statements with them regularly
Each month, review their bank statement and where they are spending their money. Ask questions and show interest. This is modeling financial responsibility. Ask them to show you some of the websites they trusted and why.

Expect failure
In the early days, your child will surely send $7 to some scam. View this as AWESOME. They have just failed, which primes them for learning. Without the realness of actual loss, deep learning is hard to come by. Support your child through the loss, but don't refund the money for them. Provide high emotional support, but do not bail them out. View this as this was, a $7 lesson that will help my kid avoid a $2,000 mistake down the road when they are in college. Offer strong emotional support without solving the financial problem (i.e., do NOT refund their money).

Using the above strategy is VERY difficult. It means you have to (somewhat knowingly) allow your child to experience failure, loss, disappointment and sadness. However, you can't possibly protect them from every scam out there. The best long-term strategy is to allow them to have micro-failures, with large amounts of autonomy, small amounts of money, AND large levels of parental support as they work through the emotions of being scammed online. This process will allow them to develop the appropriate skepticism and keen discernment needed to steer clear of the bad-guys for the long haul.

4. 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 on the phone or online as it is in real life.

5. Properly trained students are the greatest defense there is against online scams

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.

6. Identifying scams together creates a safe atmosphere

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 online 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.

7. Teach your children how 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 Parental Control Software Guide to find tools to help protect your family’s internet security.


Parents can’t solely rely on security software to protect their kids from online scams. 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.

We want to hear from you! What are your best tips for keeping kids safe from internet scams? Let us know in the comments below!

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