Teaching your kids to recognise and avoid online scams

Teaching your kids to recognise and avoid online scams

Gen Z and Gen Alpha are digital natives. They’ve grown up with devices galore, so it's no surprise that they’re tech-savvy and confident online. That said, even the brightest kid or teen is still more trusting than most adults, making them vulnerable to various online scams. So helping kids see how easy it is to fall for scams is an important step towards keeping them safe online.


Action Fraud, Cifas and UK Finance collectively received 822,276 fraud reports in 2020, of which 698,934 (85 per cent) were online scams. And Social Catfish found people aged 20 and younger had the fastest scam victim growth rate (156%) of all age groups. In this age bracket, financial losses to scammers have grown from just over £6.5 million to a whopping £58 million over the last three years. Unauthorised financial fraud losses across all payment cards, remote banking and cheques totalled £783.8 million in 2020. In addition to this, 


This means that no matter how smart and internet savvy your child is, they are vulnerable to various cleverly-devised scams designed to target their vulnerabilities and desire to do good.


So what’s the best way to keep kids safe online and help them understand how to protect their money and identity? “It all starts with a conversation,” says Louise Hill, co-founder and COO of GoHenry. "Knowledge is power, and regular discussions around the nature of scams and why teens (and adults) are targeted can help raise awareness of the issue. This means not only talking about how they may be scammed, but bigger issues such as money theft, identity fraud and how others can steal their data."


Clinical psychologist Linda Blair agrees, and told GoHenry, “It’s very important for parents to talk to their children and teens about scams, and to realise that it’s not gullibility that makes kids fall for these con tricks. Mostly it’s impulse control, and the fact older kids have trouble waiting. So a typical teen will read something and instead of thinking they feel compelled to act immediately. As a parent you can help them avoid this by making sure you’re informed about the latest scams and addressing the fact that they need to stop and think if they don’t want someone to take advantage of them.”




Some of the most common online scams targeting kids

  • Text message scams
  • Celebrity scams
  • Apple pay scams
  • Smishing scams
  • Online shopping offers and prizes scams
  • Pet purchase or rescue
  • Crypto assets and NFT investment scams
  • Fake contests
  • Online quizzes
  • Talent scouting scams

16 most common online scams targeting kids

It pays to know what your kids may encounter in terms of online scams directed at them. Here are some of the most current scams.

Text message scams

According to recent research from WhatsApp, younger age groups are almost ten times more likely to prefer a text-based method of communication to a phone call (89% vs 9%). This reliance on messaging puts them more at risk of text-based scams.


"We are seeing an increasing number of reports of 'friend in need' scams in recent months," says Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team and Friends Against Scams. "Scammers send messages that appear to come from a friend or family member asking for personal information, money, or a six-digit PIN. These scams are particularly cruel as they prey on our kindness and desire to help friends and family."


According to UK Finance more than £1.3bn was stolen by this method last year. Known officially as authorised push payment fraud (APP), victims are tricked into making a payment, usually due to criminals pretending to be from a trusted contact. An estimated £214.8m was stolen using this method in 2021.


In response to this WhatsApp has launched STOP. THINK. CALL. which aims to educate everyone on protecting themselves from message-based scams.


Almost three-fifths of Brits (59%) say they have received a message-based scam in the last year – or know someone who has – so teach your kids that before they respond to a suspicious or unusual message they should:


STOP: Take five before you respond. 


THINK: Does this request make sense? Are they asking you to share a PIN code they sent you? Are they asking for money? Remember that scammers prey on people's kindness, trust and willingness to help.


CALL: Verify that it is your friend or family member by calling them directly or asking them to share a voice note. If it turns out to be untrue, report It to Action Fraud.

Celebrity scams

Make sure your kids also know about fake social media and messaging scams featuring celebrities they like and follow. These usually take the form of fake social media accounts that are designed to mirror real celebrity accounts, fake online videos where a celebrity seems to be endorsing a money making product or service or a direct message asking for money from someone well-known.


Be sure your child knows that no celebrity would even DM a fan, or ask fans to send money. And when celebrities endorse or push a product they are required by law to make it clear on the post that their social media post is an advert or paid partnership. And again they would not ask fans to send money to an address or account.


If your child is ever unsure about a social media account get them to look for the blue verification tick, or suggest they ask you to get you to check the account. Look out for stolen images that have all been posted on the same day, strange spellings of names or any account/person that asks for money.

Apple Pay Scams

Apple Pay is a secure and convenient method of making payments using Apple devices. However, scammers may try to exploit users through various tactics. Some of the most common Apple Pay scams include scammers calling or sending fake emails, text messages, or pop-up notifications claiming to be from Apple. 


These messages may ask your child to re-authenticate their Apple Pay. update their Apple Pay account, verify their identity, or resolve a problem. The goal is to trick them into providing personal information, such as their Apple ID, password or passcode, or financial details so they can take control of Apple Pay. Apple, will never ask anyone to call them or put a pop up to do so on your screen. Always call the official Apple number when in doubt.


Scammers may also pose as Apple tech support representatives, claiming there is an issue with their Apple Pay account or device. They may ask for remote access to the device or request payment for their "services." 


Finally, let your kids know about money-flipping scams: Scammers may promise to multiply their money if they send them an initial payment through Apple Pay. Scammers usually claim to have a secret investment or business opportunity that guarantees high returns. Get your kids to remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Smishing scams

Smishing is when a scammer tries to get a user’s personal or financial information via SMS or instant messaging (on social networks) or a voicemail call by pretending to be a bank or a credit card company or even a delivery service who has a parcel.


Messages can be anything from fake warnings about fraud on your account, to lost passwords, requests for your kid to collaborate with a brand for money, or monetary rewards that urge a user to act quickly. The texts all have a link to a website where you are asked to enter personal or banking details and, to seem more credible, the website often shows the bank or the company logo.


A recent example of this is scammers posing as the NHS, sending texts claiming to offer covid vaccines. The text message includes a blue link, which takes them to a fake webpage with NHS branding. The user is then asked to confirm ownership of the address by providing their bank details.


Again, reinforce the message that your kids should NEVER click on any links or give anyone their personal information in texts, emails and direct messages online.

Online shopping offers and prizes scams

Purchase scams – where someone is tricked into buying a product that doesn’t exist – are also common with cases up 18% to 99,733 in 2021, with total losses reaching £64.1m, an increase of 25%.


These scams take the form of social media posts, direct messages, texts and online offers, promising luxury goods like new iPhones, designer items and even VIP tickets to meet someone famous all for amazingly cheap prices. The aim is to entice young people (and adults) to hand over cash, but also to give scammers their personal information. 


With older teens, warn them to look out for app scams which claim to be able to tell you who has been looking at (or stalking) your social media profile. This scam tends to be attractive for teenagers who want to see how popular they are, but all these apps do is collect personal data by introducing malware (viruses) to harvest personal data.




Pet purchase or rescue

Using pets as a lure is a very popular scam designed to target kids and pull at their heartstrings. It usually involves a puppy, kitten or another animal and states there is a limited time to save or buy this animal. To help the scam, urges kids to send money ASAP.  

Crypto assets and NFT investment scams

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ether, and NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are often seen as quick ways to get rich. Due to this, scammers target anyone searching for investments online or kids looking to earn money fast. Some scammers offer Bitcoin as prizes or high returns for investments; some even provide more realistic returns for a small amount of cash. As ever, if it sounds too good to be true, it's a scam. 

Fake contests

Another popular online scam is the - you have won a prize - one. You may get a text, a message on social media or an email saying you have won a new iPhone or iPad or vouchers for something, usually from a fake contest you have no memory of entering. It's a scam if they ask you to pay to get your prize (even if it's a small amount), pay more to win more and if they ask for financial information.

Online quizzes

Online quizzes are scams on a mission to grab your personal information. They do this in various ways, from getting you to click a link and verify who you are and then asking for financial or personal information or even money to get your quiz results.

Talent scouting scams

Acting, modelling and be-an-influencer scams are rife on social media as scammers prey on what they know are appealing careers. For modelling, scammers often offer a photo shoot or classes to help you get a portfolio or jobs. Both come with a high price ticket. Acting and extra scams include paying for auditions, paying for someone to be your agent and paying to be in an acting agency. No reputable model or talent agency would ever ask for money upfront for any of these things. 

Pop-up scams

Pop-up scams aim to make you panic and do something like hand over details or money before you have time to think. Usually, a pop-up claims you have a virus and must pay to get rid of it. Legitimate antivirus software companies don't work like this. 

Money transfer scams

A money transfer scam is often disguised as a part-time job to work from home and become a transfer manager. You may get a scam ad or an email or text. The 'job' is to receive a payment into your bank account, take it out as cash and then send it using a money transfer service elsewhere. You may be told it's for a good cause or a charity, but this is how criminals launder money. 

Online gaming scams

Due to the time and money spent on in-game purchases by players, the online gaming world has become the ideal place for fraudsters and scammers to operate. Look out for scammers offering cheat codes, power-ups, unlimited downloads and access to unique skins and armour, all for money. They will usually be on gaming message boards or will send you a message. 

Financial aid scams

Financial aid scams are schemes that target individuals offering help with education or even living needs. The scams often promise free money, government grants, and loans with low-interest rates. All ask for an upfront fee or personal information such as your bank account details. 

"Free" service scams

"Free" service scams are scamming schemes that promise a complimentary service or trial period but then charge hidden fees or subscription fees without the user's knowledge or consent. These scams can take many forms, including free trial scams, free virus scan scams and free prizes and entice you to sign up with your personal information and later charge you large sums of money.

Blackmail scams

These scams work based on an anonymous person texting or messaging you through social media to say they have information that you visited an adult site, or embarrassing pictures of you that they will expose if you don't send them money. These emails are attempting to scare you into handing over money. They don’t have any information about you, so don’t respond or click on any links. Delete the email; if you are worried about it, talk to someone you trust who can reassure you.

12 ways to avoid falling victim to scams 

  1. NEVER hand over your personal details. No reputable bank or financial company would never ask you to share personal information by direct message, text, WhatsApp or on a phone call.

  2. Always carefully check logos and official looking texts and emails BEFORE answering. If they’re unsure, remind your child to check with a  parent. For example all official GoHenry emails come from one of our gohenry.com/uk emails, and on a phone call with GoHenry members will be taken  through security to confirm who they are before dealing with any fraud comments.

  3. Also beware of fraudsters who set-up fake accounts on social media. These people then message via DM asking you to do something i.e. provide information or follow a link. Look for an official blue tick on social accounts saying they are from well known organisations..

  4. Be careful with any link you're asked to click on in texts and emails, and be wary when asked to give out your personal information. When in doubt, always ignore the link, and go to the official website and log into your account directly through the trusted and official landing page.

  5. Don't download anything from a source you are unsure about.

  6. Avoid retailers/sale sites you are not familiar with, or take time to check out their reviews online before shopping with them.

  7. Look out for texts, emails and social media adverts with spelling mistakes, strange logos and phrases. These tend to be fake. Verified accounts will always have a blue tick.

  8. Be careful about payment: never pay someone you don't know and haven't checked out.

  9. Always try to do a background Google search on companies and people who contact you.

  10. If in doubt, don't respond or send any information, even if a message looks like it’s from a friend.

  11. If you're worried about a friend, call to check if they are ok. Don't assume that a message is from them, especially if it sounds strange or unlikely.

  12. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it’s likely to be a scam.

What to do if your child has fallen for a scam

It can be very frightening and upsetting to realise that you have been targeted or scammed. For this reason teens and kids often feel they can't tell you if it’s happened to them. 


So be sure to reassure your kids that no matter what happens they should always tell you as soon as possible if they have handed over information or money.


You can then report all fraud and cybercrime to the police at Action Fraud.


If you are worried that your child has been targeted by scammers, or have concerns about any of the issues mentioned above, please get in touch with us via Live Chat, and we’ll be happy to help.





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Written by Anita Naik Published Mar 16, 2023 ● 5 min read