Kids’ Scams: The Good, the Bad and the In-Between

Three ways kids can get caught up in scams, and how to spot them: Internet ScamBusters #321

Young people get caught up in kids’ scams through naivety, as
innocent fronts for crooks or through their own mischievous
actions. In this week’s issue, we explore the three ways kids’
scams happen — with suggestions on how to prevent these
scams.

Before we begin, we recommend you check out this week’s issue
of Scamlines– What’s New in Scams?

Next, you may want to spend a moment looking at this week’s
most popular articles from our other sites:

Answers to 7 of the Biggest Questions About Beauty in Landscape Photography:
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How Your Credit Report Can Detect Identity Theft: You’ll get an href="http://www.identitytheftfixes.com/how_your_credit_report_can_detect_identity_theft.html"
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Tips to Make Sure You Don’t Waste Money: You’ll href="http://www.consumersavvytips.org/do_you_waste_money_without_even_leaving_the_house.html"
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with these simple tips.

Now, here we go…


Kids’ Scams: The Good, the Bad and the In-Between


We hear and read a lot about scams aimed at seniors, but this
week we want to switch our focus to the other end of the age
range and talk about kids’ scams — online and offline crimes
that involve children.

There are basically three types of kids’ scams:

  • The good — that is, through no fault of their own, they
    just become scam victims — so let’s call these kids “the
    good.”

  • The bad — when they set out to scam others. So these are
    scams that children pull off themselves — they’re “the bad”
    types.

  • The in-betweens — when they’re used by others, knowingly or
    not, to con people as a front by a con artist — let’s think
    of these children as the in-betweens.

We look at each type of kids’ scam in turn.

1. Scams that target children

Children are often trusting and naive, which makes them
sitting targets for crooks. And remember, scammers have no
feelings, no compassion, so they don’t care who they rip off,
how much pain or upset they cause.

The most common scam aimed at kids is usually an online sale
ad for a piece of mouthwatering gadgetry — like an iPhone —
at a knock-down price. Victims have been known to sell other
stuff and/or use a chunk of their savings to pay for something
that doesn’t exist.

Often they’re so embarrassed they don’t tell their folks.

On the other side of the coin, children selling goods online
are often targeted by scammers using phony escrow companies or
forged checks to lure the teens into sending off their stuff
before they get paid.

Another frequent con that targets children is the talent kid
scam. This takes many forms — an invitation to take a screen
test or join a child model agency or a celebrity soccer school.

Sometimes, victims are simply notified that they’ve won some
sort of award or prize in recognition of their skills. Other
times, they are offered help supposedly to gain scholarships.

In all cases, the kids, or more usually their parents, learn
they must pay a big upfront fee. Then the “opportunity” itself
either doesn’t exist or is a cheap sham that bears no
relationship to how much has been paid out and is often
protected by small print exclusions that let the scammer off
the hook.

Children can also be unwittingly hooked into phishing and ID
theft scams by giving away personal information — about
themselves or their family — online, often in bogus
competitions. See, for example, this article on href="http://www.scambusters.org/identity-theft.html">identity theft.

And, of course, there are far worse threats in the form of
predators who hang out on social networking sites or in chat
rooms pretending to be someone else to gain their victim’s
trust and confidence.

Actions you can take: Kids notoriously hate parents
interfering with their online activities but, at the very
least, you should alert them to these dangers. Tell them never
to disclose personal details on the Internet, never to agree
to meet someone they don’t know without your permission, and
never to part with money they can’t afford to lose before
checking it out with you.

Check out this article for more tips on href="http://www.scambusters.org/internet-scams.html">teaching
children how to avoid Internet scams.

2. When kids become scammers

On the one hand, they seem innocent and naive. On the other
hand some children are streetwise and worldly-wise. And they
know how to play on your emotions to empty your wallet or
pocket book.

Young people are also the most Internet-savvy generation and
it’s not unusual to find hackers and online fraudsters in
their early teens — like the 14-year-old who made $800,000 on
a pump and dump stock scheme a few years back and the Japanese
high-schooler who hacked into an online game and stole
$360,000 of virtual money, which could be converted into hard
cash.

One of the most frequent kid scams, where children are the
perpetrators rather than the victims, is the magazine
subscription con, where children go from door to door selling
subscriptions to non-existent publications, supposedly to help
other children.

Often they claim to be on a character-building exercise
devised by their school or sports coach.

Other recent kid scams include:

  • In Northeast Ohio, a 12-year-old girl toured local
    businesses seeking money for multiple sclerosis charities,
    offering forged sports center passes in exchange.

  • Also in Ohio, another 12-year-old used his father’s credit
    card to pay for paintball adventures, hacked a local firm for
    its bank account details, then used these to pay the credit
    card bill!

  • In Wales, a child earned about $60,000 selling non-existent
    goods on eBay.

  • In Fraser, Australia, three 14-year-olds pretending to be on
    a research project talked their way into several homes where
    they stole money.

Steps you can take: Remember that age is not necessarily a
predictor of innocence. Treat any transaction with a young
person with the same wariness you’d apply to anyone else you
don’t know.

More about kids and magazine and charity fraud in this article on our
site: Beware
this “Neighborly” Charity Fraud
.

3. Using kids as a front for a scam

Not only are most kids more trusting and naive than adults,
but they also seem to have that effect on people who come into
contact with them. Because of their natural aura of innocence,
we’re more likely to believe stories about kids and/or to be
moved to offer help.

Beggars and pan-handlers know this and will often be
accompanied by a child or even carry a baby as part of their
come-on for cash. This is a common ruse aimed at tourists in
third world countries.

It’s a simple step from there to using them, or fabricated
tales concerning children, as a way of raising money. The kid
scams here range from donation boxes in convenience stores,
supposedly to raise money for medical treatment for a child,
to street and door-to-door collections for non-existent or
unaware children’s charities.

In a recent case in Gainesville, Florida, a woman collected
thousands of dollars from local churches after falsely
claiming she needed the money for kidney treatment for her
son.

Sometimes, a story of a child with a terminal illness is used
purely as a meaningless hoax, to get people to send
chain letters or chain emails, just for the heck of it.

Using the name of a children’s organization can be enough to
fool us into making irrational decisions. A well-practiced
example is the Church of Children scam, which, for good
measure, rolls in another trustworthy connection — religious
missionary affiliations that seem to legitimize the location,
usually Togo in Africa.

Bogus orders for banners for the church are placed with
manufacturers who are then asked to pre-arrange shipment with
a freight company that has to be paid in advance. The freight
company is bogus. It’s an advance payment, 419 scam.

Steps you can take: Be skeptical about any child-related
activity that is going to cost you money. Make donations
directly to charities rather than into collection boxes unless
you’re sure they’re legit.

Check out this article about how children are used in href="http://www.scambusters.org/travelscams3.html">travel scams and this one on href="http://www.scambusters.org/fakes.html">fake donation box
scams.

We owe it to our younger generation to do all we can to
protect them from scams. But we also owe it to ourselves not
to fall for kid scams. In particular, technology has put a
powerful weapon into the hands of potential young crooks. So
we also must do what we can to help protect them from
themselves!

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!