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Explaining Common Online Scams to Children

Social media privacy issues aren’t always obvious. Scammers can use all kinds of creative ways to get personal or financial information from kids. This kind of activity can even put parents’ information at risk. For example, many parents give credit card information to their kids for purchasing apps or items online.

Accidentally falling prey to a scam can jeopardize more than your kids realize. To steer clear of social media privacy issues, your kids need to know how to spot threats. You might find it helpful to talk about some of the examples below with your kids, especially if they are older and more independent on social media.

Shady Apps

  • What they are: Shady developers sometimes create apps that are used to harvest personal data, spy on devices, or illegitimately charge credit cards.
  • What kids can do: Don’t provide payment information without verifying the app’s quality and reputation.

Fake Contests

  • What they are: Has your child ever gotten excited about a contest or promotion online that promises cool swag or cash prizes? Fake contests usually look like giveaways or one-time offers that are too good to be true.
  • What kids can do: Ask parents to check the legitimacy of a contest before providing personal data or payment information.


  • What it is: While the word “phishing” sounds silly, it’s a serious problem for individuals and businesses. Phishing is used to get access to protected personal accounts like online banking.
  • What kids can do: Don’t reply to messages from people they don’t know. Don’t click on unfamiliar links. Be careful when browsing away from their home Wi-Fi.

Viruses or Malware

  • What they are: Malware is used for all kinds of bad purposes, from stealing passwords to turning on webcams.
  • What kids can do: Don’t open links from strangers. Ask for help before downloading a new app or file. Remind your kids that attackers could even use one of their friend’s profiles or accounts to send harmful content and links.

Identity Theft

  • What it is: Minors can experience identity theft. By using private personal information, cyber criminals can open fake accounts at retailers, rent properties, falsify tax returns, and much more.
  • What kids can do: Keep their personal information private. Partner with their parents to keep track of their data through monitoring tools.

For older kids (about 16 and up), discussing social media privacy issues might actually provide a good opportunity to teach other important life skills. For example, credit scores can be a simple and free way to keep track of which accounts have been opened in your kids’ names. By showing them how to check their credit score online, you can help them learn a valuable practice and protect their identity.