As a Gen Z internet is integrated in my mainframe – no pun intended. I received my first tablet when I was two and have been attached to some tool to connect to the world wide web in some way. So how did I get scammed?
Scammers are crafty and spend multiple hours finding ways to target children and teens including everything from online shopping fraud to gaming scams. As a teen we are vigilant about phishing scams, talent scouting scams to “free” service scams. Those can be easy to identify. Online gaming scams are not the traditional instinctual barriers so the rules that are associated with text messages, Facebook, Tik Tok etc. do not apply. That’s why, I didn’t expect one of my ‘friends’ online offering “skins” to include “skins” and malware.
Let’s start at the beginning. Skins is a graphic download that can change the appearance of a character in a game. Sometimes you can ‘skin gamble’ meaning gamers exchange virtual goods for virtual chips aka virtual money. This is how I got caught up. I know enough to not share any credit card information online but when the ‘skins’ where exchanged a hidden link was embedded that unbeknownst to me downloaded malware or spyware on the gaming computer. Malwares bore deep into computer systems and can spread through networks. They can crack weak passwords and slow down your computer.
Fortunately, this was the gaming computer but sometimes my brother and I handle some work-related business on it. Which is not allowed but when you’re a teen and you don’t want to get up and walk all the way into the other room to use the work computer – you use the gaming computer. Because this computer did not give the scammer full access to ALL personal and business information. It did give them enough access to steal a few thousand dollars.
What type of scams are out there for kids to be aware of? Here’s a few and to handle them:
- Fake contest – these types of scams encourage kids to enter a fraudulent contest that requires a small fee or they will send you an email that you’ve already won. These are kind of easy to spot because no one can win a contest when they haven’t entered a contest.
- Pop-up scams – these are items that randomly pop-up on your screen . These are super annoying, and few gamers will click these because they interrupt the game
- Online Quizzes – They come off as silly or fun, but they are designed to gather personal info like name, where you live or favorite things. Quizzes are for school – not for the internet. Avoid these like you avoid Types of Probability in math class
- Money Scams – scammers will send a text and claim that money was sent in error and will ask for the money to be returned. I find sticking to the golden rule: Finder’s keepers, losers weepers will stop this scam.
- Financial Aid Scam – these types of scams will randomly reach out for you to apply to a bogus college grants, financial aid or scholarships. They will require an upfront application fee. Naturally, a bank or credit card information will be asked upfront. Millennials are literally marching in the streets and calling financial aid predatory. Seriously, stay far away from any and everything ‘financial aid’ related.
- Free Service Scam – internet is littered with ‘free’ services but if they charge a recurring subscription fee. Is it really free? If it’s not free, then the whole ‘free’ thing is a farce
How can we protect ourselves? Easy work with your parent, guardian, or trusted adult. Even if you think that computers have changed, they have been around a lot longer than us and can easily spot a scam before us. Also do not ever disclose the following information:
- Your real name – there’s a reason that ‘usernames’ were created
- Address – no one should be coming to visit you. If they ask where you live tell them “Planet Earth”.
- Birth date – I mean why would anyone need to know this? If it’s a horoscope thing just tell them you’re an Aquarius riding the curtails of a Pisces but have mood swings of a Gemini
- School – we must spend so many hours during the day there. When out of school – it should be forgotten
- Social Security Number – if you’re a kid and you memorized yours. You are seriously doing way too much and should know that this should never be shared.
- Phone number – there’s a reason What’s App was created
- Payment card or bank account number – hard stop – just don’t share
- Passwords – this is like covid and should never be shared
As a kid, we’re going to mess up. If you’re me, you’ll mess up A LOT but that a screw up is not the end all. It just means that I am still learning and growing even if I think I know everything. The scammer who got me also made me humble. They reminded me that I still have a lot to learn and my familiarity with technology created a false sense of security that left me highly susceptible to being scammed. I guess that’s why growing up takes so many years.