Common online scams targeting teenagers

Mum showing her teen daughter something on her laptop as if explaining about common online scams targeting teens

Explore common online scams targeting teens with advice from finance expert Ademolawa Ibrahim Ajibade to help keep them safe online.

The modern landscape of scams and fraud

The Covid-19 pandemic saw an astronomic spike in online fraud targeting teenage victims. As people relied more on the internet for finance and shopping, scammers stole an astonishing £2.3bn from UK residents in 2021. With 410,000 incidents reported, Action Fraud revealed that many online scams target teens and young people.

Ponzi schemes, counterfeiting and advanced-fee fraud were once the go-to schemes for fraudsters. Today, however, fraud has taken a very different shape. From online shopping scams to false job offers, scammers might use the internet and social media to target young people.

Below are some common online scams targeting teens along with tips on how to protect them from falling victim.

Social media spoofing

Spoofing is one common online scam targeting teens. It involves scammers creating fake social media profiles to pose as an acquaintance, popular celebrity or corporate brand. They then trick users into sending them money. Or, they might gain access to personal information or spread malicious software onto their devices.

Cyber criminals may also take control of high profile social media accounts to fool their followers. As a result, they can persuade victims to send money or carry out cyber attacks.

How it works

How social media spoofing works

There are various ways to spoof on social media. Common steps may include:

  • creating a fake account that mimics the profile of a real acquaintance, popular person or corporate brand;
  • sending friend requests and direct messages to people using a fake identity in order to gain their trust;
  • posting links to malicious websites or software on the fake account;
  • asking for instant donations for a cause;
  • claiming distress and asking for payments into their accounts.

A popular spoofing incident happened in July 2020. The official Twitter pages of various high profile accounts were hacked by Bitcoin (BTC) scammers. Within a few hours, they stole millions of dollars worth of BTC through a series of spoofing tweets.

In other cases of spoofing, fraudsters have posed as customer support outlets. They then try to convince unsuspecting teens to share financial information or make unnecessary payments to resolve a legitimate complaint.

To cover their tracks, spoofing fraudsters may use foreign bank accounts or anonymous payment methods like cryptocurrencies.

Actions you can take

How to protect teens from social media spoofing

To protect kids and teens from falling victim to spoofing attacks, take steps to build their awareness.

  • Be cautious when accepting friend requests. Friend requests from unknown people should be ignored or rejected.
  • Report suspicious offers and messages. Take screenshots and share with trusted adults for scrutiny.
  • Monitor teens’ bank accounts. Parents should ensure banking details are private. Routinely look at their bank statements for any suspicious transactions. This can help minimise the effects of scams targeting teenagers.
  • Double-check before making online subscriptions and purchases.
  • Set security settings and parental controls. Heavily encrypted or anonymous social media platforms like Snapchat, Telegram and Reddit may increase the risk of common online scams. Set parental controls where possible or set up strong privacy and security controls with your teen to keep them safe.
  • Avoid clicking on links from unknown sources.

Social media scams document

See our social media scams guide as a part of online money management.

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Online shopping and counterfeiting

What was once commonly associated with shady back-alley salespeople, counterfeiting scams have found a new home online. But bargain-hunters remain their prime targets.

While their purchasing power might be limited, teenagers can still spend big online. Armed with this information, fraudsters regularly attempt to take advantage of teens. They lure them into phony websites to take their money and sell them nothing.

How it works

How online shopping and counterfeiting scams work

Untrustworthy sales and auction links are commonly embedded online in emails and social media posts. They might include taglines to get the latest iPhone, designer sneakers, or high-end headphones. Often, they claim offer items at a fraction of the actual retail price.

The offers often sound too good to be true. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what they are. Once paid for, the products never arrive.

In other cases, fraudsters may pass off knock-offs and counterfeit items as the real deal. Convincing social media pages and online resale platforms like eBay make it hard to determine what is real or fake.

Online shopping scams have emerged as one of the most devastating forms of online scams. This is because teenagers are often too embarrassed to tell their parents or make timely complaints to the authorities when scammed. Therefore, most cases of online shopping and counterfeiting scams go unreported.

Actions you can take

How to protect teens from online shopping scams and counterfeiting

There are actions you and your child can take to keep them safe from scams related to online shopping and counterfeiting.

  • Find the product through a different route. Instead of clicking on links, find the product elsewhere by using a search engine like Google.
  • Look at comments and reviews. If a product is a scam or suspicious, you might find comments calling it out. Additionally, websites like Trustpilot often have reviews of companies and products to help users make informed decisions. Don’t rely on reviews from their website.
  • Encourage your child to ask you about purchases first.
  • Contact the bank or credit card company to stop payments. If your teen buys something that turns out to be a scam, stop the payment immediately. You may have to contact their bank or credit card company to get support and advice.
  • Empower them to speak up if they make a mistake. If they ever come to you, approach the situation with calm and understanding, then help them find a solution. Jumping to conclusions or getting mad could stop the from coming to you in the future.

Contests and competitions

Online scams target teens with promises of different prizes. A talent contest scam is an example of this. Fraudulent organisations or individuals use the promise of discovering and promoting new talent to defraud unsuspecting, ambitious teenagers.

How it works

How contest and competition scams work

The scammers typically advertise trials, auditions or casting calls through online platforms, social media apps or classified ads. They may even create fake websites or social media pages that appear legitimate. However, they instead take advantage of the victims by asking for money or personal information.

Scammers may require victims to pay an upfront fee to participate in the contest or competition. They may also ask them to pay for additional services such as photography or travel expenses.

Often, these scams target teenagers who are aspiring performers looking for a big break.

Once they pay the upfront fee, they may not hear back from the scammers. Or, they could be told they did not win, and they might receive a ‘second chance’ for an even larger fee.

In some cases, the scammers may also ask for personal information that can be used for identity theft or fraud.

Actions you can take

How to protect teens from contest and competition scams

It’s important children understand that success requires a lot of hard work. They should approach promises of ‘big breaks’ with caution.

To avoid falling victim to an online contest or competition scam, it’s important for teenagers and parents to:

  • Carry out in-depth research. Research the contest or organisation before giving any money or personal information.
  • Consult an expert. If you’re able to, reach out to someone within the industry to ask whether it’s trustworthy.
  • Check the company’s website and social media pages. Look for signs of poor organisation, misspelled words and other common signs of misinformation to decide whether it’s legitimate.
  • Look for reviews or testimonials from previous participants. Ideally, look for these reviews outside of the website or social media page. Sites like Trustpilot can help.

Generally, parents should advise caution when it comes to contests. This is especially true if they require upfront fees or wild guarantees.

Some other red flags include unrealistic promises, pressure to act immediately and unexpected requests for personal information.

Health and beauty scams

Heightened by social media trends and online bullying, some teens may have body image insecurities. Scammers have begun to weaponise these insecurities to create a new common online scams. These bogus health and beauty scams encourage teens to spend money on related products and services.

How it works

How health and beauty scams work

These scams include everything from diet pills and alternative medicine supplements to subscription-based online courses or regimens. These scams target teenagers of any gender. They often relate to weight loss, beauty and muscle gain.

Fraudsters may use ads with doctored before-and-after images, fake testimonials and guarantees of quick and easy results. In reality, the products may not be effective at all. In fact, they may even be harmful to the user’s health.

Resources to support positive self-image

Actions you can take

How to protect teens from health and beauty scams

These scams mostly target teens and children with negative self-image because they are more vulnerable. As such, it’s important to offer support. Additionally, advise children to approach anything online with sceptism. They should also:

  • Talk to a trusted adult about giving out personal information. Sometimes a second opinion can help put things into perspective;
  • Look out for red flags. If something feels too good to be true, it probably is. Empower them to trust their instincts. Watch out for pressure to act immediately, requests for money upfront or lack of scientific evidence.
  • Approach ‘free’ trials with caution. Free trials that require credit card information could result in unintended charges. If this happens, contact the credit card company for support.

Generally, parents should educate kids on the importance of researching products. This is especially true when suggested by popular influencers or content creators who are sponsored. Encourage children to think critically about all claims they see online.

Webcam and remote access scams

Due in large part to the Covid-19, virtual classes and calls became a fixture for many teenagers and young adults. The global need to connect led to an increase in the use of webcams. As a result, scammers began exploiting this technology with scams targeting teens. Through webcams and video calling platforms, they found ways to collect private information, or even images to use as blackmail.

How it works

How webcam and remote access scams work

These scammers may pose as a staff member, family member or friend or even a technical support representative. They then might use remote access software to take control of computers or devices and wreak havoc.

Scammers might use the webcam to spy on the victim. Additionally, they might install malware or steal personal information with remote access.

In the early days of the pandemic, ‘Zoombombing‘ or ‘Zoom raiding’ saw users gaining access to meetings without permission. With heightened cyber security features, these kinds of incidents became less likely, though it can still happen. Implementing meeting rooms and requiring a password can help limit this kind of access. As a result, scammers are unlikely to gain access too.

Actions you can take

How to protect teens from webcam and remote access scams

With all risks of harm related to online safety, cyber security is vital. This might be in the form of parental controls or general security settings that you set up with your child. Parents and carers can work to limit those online scams targeting their teenagers.

  • Keep webcams covered when not in use. You may not realise someone has gained access to a device’s camera. As such, keeping it covered can help reduce the chance of spying. Cover with the built-in hardware or simply a piece of paper or tape as a prevention.
  • Explain to your child that they should never grant remote access to their device. If there is an issue that needs to be fixed, encourage them to come to you. You can then talk with support services and, if remote access is required, can check that it is legitimate.
  • Check and review apps that have access to the device webcam. If they do not need camera access, you can turn their access off in your device settings.
  • Ignore unsolicited video calls or emails. Encourage your child to block calls and emails from people they don’t know. They can also report the scammer to the platform to help limit their ability to contact others.
  • Always verify the identity of the person or organisation. Explain to your child what personal information is. It might include full names, phone numbers, bank / credit card details and even photos. Together, you can research their identity, report them or take other actions.
  • Install up-to-date antivirus software. All devices have weaknesses. Therefore, installing antivirus software is important. It can help detect scams and cyber attacks. See some popular antivirus software here.

Fake loans and scholarships

Fake loan or scholarships are common online scams targeting teens and parents looking for ways to pay for further education. These scams typically involve false offers of low-interest student loans or scholarships that require upfront fees or personal information. However, they do not actually provide any financial assistance. In fact, they may cause more financial hardship.

These types of online scams may more greatly impact families more vulnerable due to low income. In the cost of living crisis, it’s important to remain alert.

How it works

How fake loans and scholarship scams work

Fake loans or scholarship scams target teenagers thinking about the next step of their education.

The scammers may claim that the scholarship is ‘guaranteed’ or ‘exclusive to few people’ to make it appear more valuable. They are usually advertised through social media, phone calls or emails. Additionally, they may use fake websites or social media pages that appear legitimate.

In some cases, they might require the victim to enter banking details or other personal information that can target finances. Scholarships and loans should only be accessed through official trusted channels.

Actions you can take

How to protect teens from fake loans and scholarship scams

To avoid falling victim to fake loans and scholarship scams, make teens aware of the following:

  • Never pay upfront fees for student loans or scholarships.
  • Use only official and legitimate sources to apply for scholarships or loans. You can find information for student financial support through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Trustworthy organisations like the Prince’s Trust provide guidance too.
  • Be cautious of scholarships or loans that seem a little too easy to access. Loan providers generally run credit checks and explore the likelihood for being repaid. Scholarships often have various requirements like high academic achievement, involvement in activities or a written longform essay on a specified topic. If all you have to do is fill out a form with basic information, it might not be trustworthy.

When further education looms, many parents and young people worry about financing this next step. This period of vulnerability may lead to less scepticism. However, parents must be wary not to let down their guard.

Tackle online scams

See our expert panel’s advice on tackling different online scams targeting teens and children.

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Final thoughts

The anonymity and popularity of social media among children and young people make them easy targets for scammers.

Our ‘tech-savvy’ teens have grown up with computers and smartphones as second skin. As such, they likely approach online financial transactions with more trust and complacency, and less caution.

Therefore, it’s important for parents and carers to keep up with the scams targeting teens.

Learn more common online scams:

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