You told them what?!
A teenager I know recently approached me excitedly. He told me all about the online contest he had won. Among hundreds of thousands of others, he was selected to receive $1,000, and various perks, including free dvd rentals. Naturally suspicious, I asked him when and how he entered this contest. "That was the best part-- I didn't even have to enter!" he boasted.
Oh boy. Major red flag. I quickly told him not to supply any personal information, particularly social security or credit card numbers. "If you truly won something, it will be sent to you with no strings attached. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
The next day the boy regretfully admitted that he had been scammed. In fact, to my amazement, he had even given out a credit card number, reasoning that dvd accounts often ask to have one on file. Fortunately, he was able to cancel the card and prevent real trouble. What baffled me most was that this particular teen is very intelligent and analytical. How could he fall for such obvious fraud?
Teens naturally have a few strikes against them, making them perfect cyberscam victims. First and foremost, they have not lived long enough or made enough mistakes to be cautious or suspicious. Add to that the biological fact that their brains are not yet fully developed [no jokes, please!]. Inconveniently, they are lacking the means to fully comprehend the decision/consequence connection. This accounts for a false sense of invincibility, especially in familiar settings like the online community. Teens also wage a daily battle to be accepted and to feel special. What makes a person feel more important that being singled out as a winner?
Becoming Scam Savvy
So what are parents, teachers, and bosses of teens to do? As with other teen issues, the foundation is communication. Take time to discuss how prevalent scams are. Show them statistics if necessary. Teens can even be scammed, in some cases, by other teenagers. Decide as a team what constitutes off-limits information. Addresses, birthdays, and phone numbers should be guarded like social security numbers and credit card information. As always, keep the computer's security software updated, and take advantage of email filters.
If your teen or tween does fall for a scam, above all, do not overreact. Doing so may limit the amount of information he/she is willing to tell you. You will need to know every detail about where, when, and how the fraud took place in order to properly handle the situation. Determine the necessary steps, and involve the teen in the process of reporting and correcting the problem. As was the case with the boy I talked to, no major damage was done, but he was significantly scared into a valuable life lesson. I guarantee that he will not fall for an internet scam or casually give out personal information anytime soon!