Scams targeting seniors rightfully get a lot of publicity, but some online criminals target another vulnerable population: kids. “What we’re seeing on the senior end… it’s the same playbook on the juvenile end,” says Craig Weldon, chief special investigator in the Investor Protection Unit of the Delaware Department of Justice.
“Online predators targeting children [often] have darker purposes,” he cautions. “They’re after pornographic images or sexual relationships.” Other times, they’re looking for money. Javelin Strategy and Research, sponsored by groups like the AARP and Equifax, found that 915,000 children were victims of identity fraud from 2021 to 2022, with $680 million lost. (That’s compared to $43 billion lost to identity fraud for all ages during a similar time period.)
Predators tend to target kids where they are, such as social media sites like TikTok and video game platforms like PlayStation. They initiate a conversation with a victim and quickly try to move it off-platform to somewhere less monitored, like WhatsApp or a text thread.
Youth are commonly victims of a scam that also affects many adults, Weldon adds: sextortion. Child victims might send images of a sexual nature, which are then used as blackmail for ransom or to compel victims to obey other orders.
Children’s brains are still developing, so they’re vulnerable to scams, Weldon explains. “The responsibility lies with parents,” he says. “They need to know what their kids are doing.”
That means not allowing children personal devices with internet access, and not allowing them to have a cellphone until they’re mature enough to understand the dangers. If they need a computer, it’s best to provide one in a shared space in the family home.