Many resources exist to help educate adults on protecting themselves from online scams, identity theft, and other nefarious schemes. They also help safeguard the under-18 set—but as any parent of a teenager will tell you, kids tend to think they know everything, which means they might not be protecting themselves.
“Teens are very confident using digital tools and may inherently trust them,” says Diedra Porche, a financial health expert at Chase. “Parents should remind them that they always should protect their personal information, like date of birth, social security and account numbers, both in real life and online. They shouldn’t share passwords or pins.”
We’ll look closer at other ways you can help your kids protect themselves from identity theft, fraud, and other scams.
Set parental controls on smartphones
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One of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) top tips to protect children from scams and unsavory content is the most obvious: Install filtering and blocking tools, stop outgoing content to prevent personal information from being shared, use monitoring software, and limit screen time. We have articles about locking down your kid’s iPhone, how children are defeating parental controls, and talking to your kids about online safety to help you get started.
Properly install file-sharing software
If you thought peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing software went the way of Napster, then boomer, you’re mistaken. Copyright issues aside, if your teen is using BitTorrent, InterPlanetary File System, or another program on your computer to share music, movies, or other files, there is a good chance they’re unintentionally supplying your private information and files to numerous people.
The FTC recommends that if you continue to use P2P file-sharing, install it yourself to ensure nothing secret is shared. Also, instruct your kids to scan downloaded files with security software to ensure it’s free of spyware, malware, and other viruses.
Don’t send money to strangers
Romance scams don’t just happen to grandma. Fake celebrity accounts, bots, and other scammers promise love, concert tickets, and merch if your kid will send them money electronically.
“If teens get requests for money on online games, social media, or even via text, remind them to never send money to people you do not know because you may never get it back,” says Porche.
Never give out information for a perk or prize
In the world of online gaming, power-ups can come with a price. Porche advises that if your child receives an offer for online “skins” or other perks for some personal info, they shouldn’t share it. The same goes for online quizzes or games on social media, as scammers can use them to harvest personal data, including birthdays, addresses, and other information.
“It could be a way for scammers to get to your accounts or devices and steal information, like your parents’ credit card number,” she says.
Freeze your teen’s credit report
Most children won’t have a credit report until they turn 18, but that will change if someone has access to their personal information and uses it for nefarious purposes. You will have to contact the three main credit bureaus to check and freeze their credit report, making it difficult for anyone to open an account in their name.
The FTC even recommends going one step further: When your child turns 16, contact the credit bureaus for a credit report. If there are any inaccuracies, this gives you plenty of time to correct any mistakes before your teen starts a job or goes to college.
Protect their personal info
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires websites, apps, and other online services to inform parents if they collect personal information from children under the age of 13, including their name, address, phone number or email address, location, photos, videos, audio, and even their IP address.
For example, if your pre-teen has to sign up to use a feature on a site, you should receive a notice in plain language about what information is collected, how they will use it, and how or where you can consent. If you believe an online service hasn’t followed the rules of COPPA, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Learn about scams together
“Kids start forming money habits at an early age and may interact with digital tools before they reach their teen years, so keep the conversation about staying protected and stranger danger online age-appropriate but ongoing,” says Porche.
These conversations can be about shopping safely online from reputable and secure online stores that include https in their URL or learning to spot imposters—including phishing scams and “talent scouts”—together.