It's not hard to scam young people. They tend to be inexperienced, have trusting natures, and often want to fit in—making them ripe pickings for fraudsters and scam artists, who know just how to take advantage of teens.
Here are eight of the more common scams that target teenagers. Given that kids virtually live and interact online, it's no surprise that the internet is the optimal environment for many of them.
- Scams that target teenagers abound, especially in their favorite habitat—the internet.
- Fraudsters use social media to trick teens into providing personal information, which can be used for identity theft.
- Many scams take the form of ads and auctions, promising luxury goods for amazingly cheap prices—goods that never arrive.
- Other scams involve contests, scholarships, or employment offers that require the teen to pay some sort of fee or deposit.
- Yet another trick is to lure teens with "free" services for cell phones that actually incur a monthly charge.
1. Social Media Scams
Social media plays a big role in many teens' lives, which can leave an open door for fraudsters. A common scam to which teens may fall victim involves taking an online survey that pops up in their feed. The problem: They have to provide personal information to complete the survey. Scammers can use this information to access the teen's account, which may include credit card details, or for identity theft.
2. Inexpensive Luxury Goods
Have you ever seen ads online for the latest iPhone, "It" handbag, just-walked-the-red-carpet designer gown, or state-of-the-art headphones being sold at just a fraction of the retail price? Many of these advertisements are simply scams aimed at unsuspecting individuals who are looking for a good deal. However, these scams don't only exist online. Teens can be approached with too-good-to-be-true offers just about anywhere.
Sadly, in many cases, these cheap goods don't even exist. After these teens hand over their money, they never receive the promised merchandise. Or, at best, it'll be an obviously cheap imitation or shoddily-made counterfeit.
Teens are often so embarrassed about being duped that they won't tell their parents or the authorities, so many of these scams are unreported.
3. Identity Theft
The naivety of youth often makes it easier for would-be identity thieves to phish for information, as adolescents don't even realize that they're handing over personal data that can be used for identity theft. Many of these scams operate online, making use of emails or pop-up windows that ask for verification of addresses, phone numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers, or bank or credit card account numbers.
Other versions of this scam include false employment opportunities and false credit card applications—both of which require the reporting of financial information and personal details.
Some scammers run contests, with the aim being to gather entry money or personal information as a means of identity theft. Another variation exists in the form of literature or art competitions, in which creative young people can submit their work in the hopes of winning a prize or having their work published.
Of course, the teen applicant wins—and is then asked to pay a sum of money for the work to actually be published or displayed. Or, the teen is required to send money with the opportunity to win an even larger prize.
5. Financial Scams
Financial scams operate in many different ways. Although these scams don't necessarily target teens, they may be more likely to fall victim to them. It generally starts when they receive an email or text or see an advertisement on social media with an offer to invest in a great opportunity with huge payouts (often known as a Ponzi scheme). Or, they are offered a quick and easy way to make money by recruiting others—a pyramid scheme.
The average number of hours teenagers spend online each day, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
6. Scholarships and Grants
Many young people are worried about financing their higher education, and this may cause them to fall victim to scams surrounding false scholarships or grants. These offers can be attempts to steal personal information from students who may be looking for financial aid. Other scams focus on charging money for information on potential scholarships that may or may not actually exist.
Another variety targets young college students who have accrued debt from legitimate student loans. These older teens may be approached by people who offer to help eliminate student debt in exchange for a small fee. Once the fee is paid, the fraudster disappears without, of course, altering the student's debt at all.
7. Online Auctions
Auction scams have been found to target unsuspecting teens in various ways. One scam involves an auction that the teen wins for an item that doesn't exist or never arrives—even though the teen has paid for it.
Alternatively, when an unsuspecting teen is encouraged to auction off possessions, the scam artist (the "auction house rep") requires the teen to send in the item in advance, before the buyer's payment arrives or even before bids are placed. Of course, the funds never arrive or the auction never happens, and the rep disappears.
8. Cell Phone "Freebies"
Many teens carry around their cell phones wherever they go, creating a vehicle for potential fraud. Knowing how kids love to personalize their gadgetry, some companies target teens for "free" new ringtones and wallpaper images that arrive on a regular basis. However, what they don't advertise—or at least, make clear—is that this service comes with a hefty fee that'll be added to the phone bill each month. Many of these fees appear on the phone bill with ambiguous terms making it difficult for consumers—be it the kids or their parents—to decipher what they're paying for.
The Bottom Line
It's an old but eternally important life lesson: If anything looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you're a parent, take the time to discuss with your teen(s) the types of information that scammers are looking for and emphasize the need for security, privacy, and caution in sharing data. And make your children aware of any common frauds out there—especially on the internet.