Young people, like your teenage grandkids or young adult children, are increasingly the targets of digital scams, according to the FBI and researchers.
When asked whom they trust most, those same teens and 20-somethings say their parents and grandparents. So in this case, take the bait: Be their guide through the treacherous landscape of modern fraud.
“Kids will say things to grandparents they won’t say to a parent,” says Lisa Plaggemier, executive director of the nonprofit National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA). “You can take advantage of that special relationship and have a much more open conversation.”
That help is urgently needed.
A September 2022 NCA report found that 18 percent of Generation Zers (ages 18 to 25) have had their identity stolen at least once, 34 percent lost money and/or data to phishing scams, and 15 percent were caught up in romance scams — far higher than rates for older adults in the survey.
The FBI received 14,919 cyberscam reports from people 19 and younger in 2021, involving losses of $101.4 million. In a separate report from the fraud prevention company Seon, cases of online fraud affecting people under 20 increased by as much as 116 percent from 2019 to 2020.
Though the young fall prey to many of the same scams as older people, they increasingly are targeted with pitches customized to their generation. One example: Criminals offer to help young people become online “influencers.” Most troubling of all is that sextortion scams — in which criminals solicit explicit photos from young people, then blackmail them — are on the rise, the FBI warns.
Sextortion “can start on any gaming app, website or social media platform,” says Amy Nofziger, AARP director of fraud victim support. “I want parents and older adults to say to the young people in their lives: ‘If you ever hear anyone struggling with this, talk to somebody.’ ”
Young people are vulnerable because so much of their daily life happens online, says Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). Young people “are far more likely to be on the receiving end of peer pressure to be online — not just consuming content but creating and producing,” he says. That means “there are a lot more opportunities for scammers.”
This is where parents and grandparents are so important, Balkam notes. In a 2021 survey by FOSI, 70 percent of teens and young adults said that parents were their most-used resource for online safety information. But when a teen thinks that he or she did something wrong or embarrassing, going to parents can be hard — which makes the role of other family members crucial. “We have countless anecdotal evidence that it’s grandparents ... alerting parents that something is going on, on a social media site,” Balkam says. “Oftentimes it’s easier for kids to talk with another adult in the family.”