How to protect your kids and teens from popular cyber scams

SCIENCE & TECH: How to protect your kids and teens from popular cyber scams



What comes to mind when you think of someone getting scammed? A grandma on the phone with some jerk? If so, this will probably surprise you.

The total money lost by teens in online scams grew by nearly 2,500% between 2017 and 2022. Victims under the age of 20 lost a staggering $210 million in 2022 alone.

Educating our kiddos on red flags is the first step in keeping them from becoming victims. That’s why I’m telling you about the scams and hacks targeting kids and teens right now.

‘Send me a pic’ 

Sextortion scams increased an alarming 20% between October 2022 and March 2023. Scammers used to target adults, but teen boys have become their latest focus.

I spoke with a lawmaker on my national radio show, South Carolina state house Rep. Brandon Guffey, who is working to bring harsher punishments for this kind of sexual extortion. His son was targeted and took his own life in July 2022. Such a tragic story. The family is now suing Instagram.

Common tactics: 

  • Scammers create fake social media and gaming accounts, posing as an attractive young girl.
  • They start talking to a teen boy, send over some pics, and then ask for nude photos or videos in return.
  • If the victim sends one, the scammers demand a payout and threaten to post the incriminating photo or video for all their friends and family to see if they don’t pay.
The total money lost by teens in online scams grew by nearly 2,500% between 2017 and 2022. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The threat of exposure causes major panic, and many kids try to make the payments. Don’t wait to talk about this one with your children. Let them know you’re there to help if something like this happens.

Game over

Roblox and Fortnite are household names among both kids and cybercriminals. Both platforms have their own in-game currency, which requires a credit card and personal information tied to the account.

Common tactics: 

  • Apps and sites may promise to pay out in-game currency in exchange for clicking on bogus ads. Spoiler: The ads contain malware that helps crooks hack into the account.
  • Fake websites often claim to sell in-game currency. Many look real enough to fool kids and adults.

Brand bandits

Today’s teens consider social media influencers a potential career path. Who wouldn’t want to make money just for posting online?

Sextortion scams increased an alarming 20% between October 2022 and March 2023. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Common tactics:

  • In an influencer scam, crooks pose as real brands and reach out to teens with promises of cash or gifts.
  • They’ll send a message claiming they love the victim’s account and they’re an excellent match for their brand — as long as they buy a few things upfront to get started. Yeah, it’s all a con.

Safety first

It’s a scary digital world out there, and I want your whole family to navigate it safely. These tips will help keep your kids safe from scammers:

  • Have regular conversations about online dangers. Let your kids know they can always come to you with a shady situation.
  • Use a password manager on family smartphones and computers, and enable two-factor authentication on the apps your kids use regularly.
  • Make sure your kids’ social media profiles are private. The more info scammers have, the better for them.
  • Have your teen’s phone set up to block unknown callers and/or send them straight to voicemail.
  • For games with in-game currency, use a reloadable gift card instead of your credit card. Bonus: They can’t spend endlessly.
Apps and sites may promise to pay out in-game currency in exchange for clicking on bogus ads. Getty Images

Keep your tech-know going 

My popular podcast is called “Kim Komando Today.” It’s a solid 30 minutes of tech news, tips, and callers with tech questions like you from all over the country. Search for it wherever you get your podcasts. For your convenience, hit the link below for a recent episode.

PODCAST PICK: The meaning of “i” in iPhone

Do you know what it stands for? Plus, Drew Barrymore fell for a catfishing scam. Also, an AI-created ad targeting Hamas somehow lands on Hulu — we’ll dive into that. Ever wonder what it’s like to work for Bill Gates? I’ve got some insider info.

Check out my podcast “Kim Komando Today” on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.

Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”

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