| Education

What Christmas online scams should your children be aware of?

| 15 Dec 2022

During the holiday season, e-shops are full of deals giving scammers plenty of opportunity to trick an unsuspecting victim. For kids, who tend to be more naïve, it can be difficult to navigate the digital environment safely. What seasonal scams should they be aware of, and how to avoid them?

Today, most young people have nonstop access to social networks, online video games and other digital platforms. Everything is just a few clicks away, and with technologies developing rapidly, it’s more and more difficult to tell the real from the fake. Cybercriminals take advantage of this, using the popularity and anonymity of the online world to invent persuasive scams. The holiday season is aan excellentopportunity for them to trick people – it provides more free time for kids and teenagers, which they often like to spend online. 

So, what aisthe most common types of online scams children and their parents should be cautious about during the holiday season?

Social media scams

Social networks have become a haven for cybercriminals who take advantage of the naivety of their users, especially children. Some of the typical examples are fake surveys and contests. These are designed to gather personal data, which is subsequently abused by swindlers. This is especially common on Instagram, where the so-called Instascammers set up fake giveaways, oand ffer free likes or followers, in exchange for the young user’s personal information. When this information lands in the hands of cybercriminals, it can lead to so-called identity theft – a situation wherein scammers try to impersonate the victim, hacking into or duplicating their profile, or perhaps even tarnishing the victim’s name, phishing or blackmailing, as well as endangering security and privacy of their friends or family.

Online shopping scams

Buying clothes or electronic gadgets online can be fun and satisfying for people of all ages. It is normal to get excited about sales and hot deals. But fake online shops and illegitimate resellers abound, and one should be cautious.  Some are created by cybercriminals claiming to sell counterfeit products with enormous discounts. What sounds like a perfect Christmas gift may be a scam. 

In most cases, victims who shop in such online shops receive no goods and lose their money. Sometimes, tricksters send the buyer at least a cheap knockoff product, to appear partially legitimate. In either case, the founders of such malicious e-shops are not only interested in the immediate money: they also harvest personal data they can misuse. So, if your kids ever see an ad promising t free smartphone if they register to a website or a seemingly trustworthy Christmas online shop, let them know why they definitely shouldn’t interact.

Gift cards scams

Kids should be cautious during the holiday season, during which many scammers offer fake gift cards or free presents that don’t exist. The only thing users need to do to claim their gift card or special present is to provide their personal information. This is another popular Christmas scam because no legitimate online business would ask you to leave your account number or pay a fee to receive a gift card. Users, including kids, should only purchase gift cards from trustworthy webstes, and avoid third-party resellers.

E-mail and webcam scams

Have you ever received an e-mail from a mysterious king’s son who has decided to leave his inheritance to you as a Christmas gift, telling you that all you need to do to receive this money is share your account number and personal information? These messages usually contain grammatical errors and typos, and they genuinely seem absurd. Most adults recognise that this is a scam. But what about your children? Explain the possible threat, and talk to them about the purposes and motivations that hide behind the phishing e-mails that could end up in their inbox during the holiday season. As a case study, you can use a particular message that landed in their or your mailbox, pointing out the suspicious characteristics of such e-mails – from poor grammar to the sense of urgency. Think twice about opening suspicious Christmas e-cards; there is a possibility that they contain malware or attachments that negatively affect your child’s device.

Kids can also fall victim to webcam scams, which include blackmail. In such cases, the cybercriminal claims to have hacked the camera and informs the victims – be they children or parents – that they must pay themselves out of the trouble by sending a large sum of money. They threaten that if they refuse to do so, intimate photos and other compromising materials will be published to ruin not only the Christmas spirit but also their lives. In most cases, the exploiter is bluffing, using previously stolen personal information to address the victim without having anything in hand. 

Whether or not a cybercriminal has actually accessed your child’s device, it’s worth reviewing camera access permissions. You can even cover the webcam manually whenever out of use to ensure the minor can’t be stalked online, in case they had downloaded malicious software which could infect their device. Nevertheless, don’t forget to discuss such steps together so that the kid understands and doesn’t feel like you are limiting them for no reason. 

Holiday charity scams

Christmas is a time for giving and sharing. Scammers use this to their advantage, setting up fake charities. Instead of supporting, for example, an NGO’s fund, your donation may land in a cybercriminal’s account. As André Lameiras, ESET Security Writer describes in his recent article for We Live Security: “Many con artists can create plausible stories and personas that may not always trigger your spam filters. Likewise, they’re quick to exploit current events for their own gain, including by taking advantage of fears surrounding public emergencies.” 

Deceptive challenges 

Disinformation, fake news, hoaxes, myths, urban legends - there are many names for untrue or misleading information that is spread online. Some of this can be harmless and easy to detect, while other messages or calls can trick and even harm their victims. 

For example, there have been many dangerous challenges with serious consequences. The so-called Blue Whale Challenge was supposed to be an eerie social media “game” that instructed its players to accomplish goals connected to self-harm and suicide. It’s even more malicious successor was the Momo challenge. A creepy user called Momo allegedly used WhatsApp to force children and teens to complete various tasks, ranging from watching a horror movie to taking their own lives. These viral challenges can result in real-life consequences and moral panic, often spread by adults. Therefore, children and parents must be aware of this type of deception. These challenges can emerge anytime, including during the holiday season. 

Read more: The dangers of hoaxes and how to help your children recognise them

Microtransaction scams

Your kids can also get tricked when it comes to video games. Microtransactions are a type of very small financial transactions that are conducted online. They began with free mobile games such as Candy Crush and are driven by the constant need to buy more upgrades for small amounts in order to improve a character or to have a better chance to beat opponents. They are a legal way for game developers to earn more money, but they are criticised for not being ethical and taking advantage of young gamers. 

Some popular videogames attract new users via their Christmas-themed versions and hot deals. There have been many payment microtransaction frauds that might again result in the loss of personal information, and kids are spending tremendous amounts on in-app purchases. Fallout 76 recently offered a holiday bundle with prices that got out of hand – for example; players were offered a new character paint job for 18 dollars. It is essential to check if any microtransactions are involved in any particular game your kid wishes to play. Also, it is preferable not to save your card details on devices your children can access. 

Avoiding online scams

Online scammers operate in an enormous number of areas. What can you do to prevent them from hurting your children?

1. Remember always to protect your children’s personal information

First, explain what information is considered sensitive and ensure they always remember not to share sensitive data unless they are absolutely sure it is necessary. The same goes for storing private content and info on devices. Never save account numbers and passwords on the desktop, on the cloud, or in the browser. Everything kids decide to download into their computers or phones should come from a reliable website.

2. Take time to teach your child how to distinguish between trustworthy and potentially malicious websites 

Use parental controls to eliminate contact with inappropriate websites. Make sure your kids never download strange files or click on random links. Also, kids should not overshare on social media because scammers can use publicly available personal information to trick them. 

3. Teach your kids to avoid responding to random e-mails from strangers with an atypical address, or weird digital messages in general

Explain why children should not interact or click on any links they receive via e-mail or digital message, what types of scams occur during the holiday season, and how cybercriminals misuse this time for tricking people. Teach kids to delete suspicious messages and block the user. 

4. Make sure your children understand password and account policies

Adults and children should use unique passwords for every platform or website and always check reviews before creating an account. When discussing these topics, start with yourself and share what kinds of scams you or your friends have been through and what you or they would do differently now. Children shouldn’t feel embarrassed about getting tricked by an online scammer. It is important to show understanding and not act impulsive if and when your children fall into a trap. Take this as an opportunity to learn together and build trust. 

Final thoughts...

To learn more about how to keep kids safe online, visit Digital Matters. This free tool created in partnership with Internet Matters, a non-profit organisation that provides online safety expertise to support primary schools as they teach the online safety curriculum and media literacy.


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