28 September 2021

Online scams and tactics used

Girl on phone_scams article_exp Aug26

We know that parents and carers are becoming increasingly concerned about their child sharing personal details online and being exposed to an online scam. This article will explain what online scams are, how to spot them and tips to help keep your child safe.

Being online presented children and young people with many benefits and opportunities during lockdown. It allowed them to connect with loved ones, explore and play with friends they couldn’t see offline. However, this period also saw a rise in people being exposed to online scams and being tricked into sharing information that could put them at risk.   

What are online scams? 

An online scam is where criminals use the internet to mislead and take money from people. A scam can take place on any device or online platform.  

Online scams can take many forms and are often designed to look like they come from a reputable organisation such as bank, so it can be difficult to spot them straight away. ​  

Young people can be targeted or tricked into sharing personal information online which can lead to them losing money or having accounts hacked. Online scams are sometimes to referred to as ‘Phishing’.  

Scams and Gaming 

It is estimated there are almost 3 billion gamers worldwide and many of these will be children who scammers will target. Children potentially have a lot of valuable data within gaming accounts such as: 

  • Credit card details
  • In-game currency, add-ons such as skins and other virtual goods, all of which can be worth a lot of money. 

Types of gaming scams and how to avoid them:

This could be a link in an email, text, or on social media, particularly social media that is used by gamers such as Discord. Scammers may encourage children to gift them in-game currency, e.g. Fortnite V-Bucks, Roblox Robux and Fifa coins, in exchange for personal information or other virtual gifts and prizes.  

Talk to your child about who they’re talking to online and encourage them to think carefully about any requests they receive online to send or share virtual gifts, currency or prizes. If they do come across another player offering something for free, remind them to think about the source.  Is it the company, a random email or message or even a YouTube influencer (or somebody posing as one)? Sometimes a scam will require a person to log in with their user details. Tell your child that they should never share private or personal information with anyone they don’t know online and if they are unsure, they should come to you or another trusted adult.  

This is another phishing scam where users receive an email saying that their account will be suspended if they don’t click on the link and verify their account, or ‘confirm your password change’ emails where the user hasn’t changed their password. This can be confusing, especially for younger children, who may click the link out of curiosity. 

Show your child how to always go to the website manually, log in and see if you have any messages rather than clicking on the link in the message. 

The popularity of free games has risen massively and these normally have in-game purchases. It has been known for popular games to be cloned and the in-game virtual items advertised as completely free, but in order to access you have to enter your banking details. Or users will receive an email or message offering unlimited downloads for a small purchase. Upon purchasing the user is sent some links which are invariably to illegal downloads which can contain malicious software. 

Show your child how to check source of the game. For example, if something is being advertised as a Fortnite add-on or new season, is the source Epic Games (who are the creators of Fortnite}? If not, you should be very wary. If something is being advertised as free, yet you are required to enter your banking details, this should raise big alarm bells. Only download from legitimate sources. 

Some games allow players to trade and borrow virtual items and then, when the traded or borrowed item has been received, not trade back or not return the item. An example of this type of game is Adopt Me within Roblox and played by very young children who may be more trusting due to their age. There is a good article with some advice on the BBC Newsround website. 

It’s important for you to understand the nature of online risks in the spaces where your children are in order that you can help them. It’s important that you have regular conversations with your child about online risks to help them identify online scams and develop good critically thinking skills. We have already shared some gaming specific advice, here are more general tips about protecting your children from scams: 

- Use anti-virus and anti-malware software on all devices where you are able. 

- Use good, strong passwords. 

- Where possible, use two-factor authentication (2FA) on your accounts. This means that if someone has your login credentials, you will get a code as the final part of the logging in process. This is normally found in ‘Settings’. 

- Think critically, look for spelling and grammatical errors and fact check anything you’re not sure of.  

- Don’t click the link. If you receive a message, e.g. WhatsApp or email and you’re not sure if it’s a scam or not, even if it is supposedly from a company where you have an account, don’t click the link. Go to the company website manually via your browser, log in and see if you have any messages. 

- Play the Cyber Sprinters game from the National Cyber Security Centre with your child, test and update your knowledge on a range of different security matters. 

- Be particularly careful if you store credit/banking details on your devices, especially if you allow your children to use them. We would recommend setting up parental controls on devices where you are able, such as gaming stations, which can prevent downloads, in-game purchases etc. 

- Keep an eye on the games and apps your children download onto their devices. If you don’t recognise the game/app, look it up to determine its legitimacy. 

Talk to your child often and reinforce basic principles: 

  • Don’t share private or personal information with people you don’t know. 
  • Don’t spend money or lend to others without asking first. 
  • Only download games from legitimate stores, such as Apple, Google Play, PS Store etc. 
  • If they see anything that confuses them, they should come to you or another trusted adult.  

Useful links

The reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Phishing – how to report a suspicious email to the NCSC. 

Fake websites – hot to report a suspicious website to the NCSC. 

Cyber Sprinters – online security game and activities for children 7-11. 

Huge database of known scams and myths with plenty of advice and guidance. 

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