Teach Your Teen How to Spot a Scam on the Internet

The Internet is crawling with confidence games; make sure your web-active teens know what to look for and how to protect themselves.

An American woman in her late 50s moved to Australia with her company. She was an executive, divorced, and bought a beautiful house with a pool outside of Sydney. She put herself on a dating site and received a message from a man in the UK. They started talking and although she had specified she wanted to meet people in her area, she found him very charming and soon they were writing and having late night phone calls daily.

He told her he had a job as a consultant for a large energy firm that took him all over, that he had plans to come to Sydney in three months, and that he was in the process of selling two properties as a result of his divorce. A few months into the conversation, the man sent a message saying his child had been diagnosed with brain cancer and he had to stay in London. The woman wrote him supportive letters and he apologized profusely for canceling his trip to Sydney.

The child was scheduled for surgery when one of the sales fell through, according to this man, and he was suddenly worried about how he was going to pay for the procedure. The woman withdrew her savings and wired him the money with the promise that as soon as he could access his account in Sydney, he would repay her. The woman never heard from this stranger again.

The Internet offers a whole new level of protection to people who are up to no good. Until it happens to you, it’s hard to imagine, but getting scammed online is really common. Unfortunately, stopping whole organizations from taking advantage of everyday people is really difficult because their shady activities span the globe, and the perpetrators can easily slip back into the shadows.

Catfishing, or posing as a fish when you are really a cat, has strangely become something people do not just for money, but also for fun. This phenomenon is beyond bizarre, where the catfish develops a long distance relationship with an unsuspecting, lonely person.

The effects of these make-believe connections are devastating at the receiving end. It’s akin to brainwashing, with lasting psychological consequences.

It’s easy to judge the victims of these Internet scams as being “gullible,” but that’s a grave misunderstanding, and one none of us can afford. All it takes to get conned is a little vulnerability, and all of us have that potential. We project the things we want to see on the world, and when it comes to human connection, scammers see this as an opportunity to be exploited.

It’s bad enough that intelligent adults can be fooled, but for parents, it’s a terrifying prospect that our children could also be sucked into a scam. With social media and device use only becoming more prevalent among youth, it’s imperative that we teach them how to protect themselves.

Often scammers use the same techniques to reel in victims, and once you know what to look for, you can usually spot them easily. Monitor your children’s online activity, and start the crucial discussion now; here are some key signs that someone is pulling an Internet con:

  1. Too good to be true. When someone appears perfect: model good looking, excessively accomplished, rich, and poetically romantic, let’s call that red flag number one1.
  1. The person lives in another country or a far away state. Or, they have a reason they cannot talk during certain hours. They left their webcam in a hotel room. They send bad-quality photos of themselves1.
  1. Lone wolf. This highly desirable person will blame their shyness on a lack of friends or presence on the Internet. This guides the victim away from trying to validate them through a third party.
  1. Too much too soon. The person comes on really strong, making promises, writing long letters, and gushing with compliments, and jumps right into making plans. An unsolicited promise is as close to “I’m trying to manipulate you” as the con artist ever gets to admitting what they are doing1.
  1. The pity party. Commonly, the catfish will create interest and when they feel like they have the victim hooked, they will tell a really sad story, one in which they are the hero or the victim. They do this to inspire sympathy, to gain trust by revealing highly personal details. This also knocks their victim off balance, making it socially awkward to ask certain kinds of questions. The pity play is a really frequently used tool of the sociopath, according to psychologists3.
  1. The foundation of wealth. Scammers like the man who scammed the woman in Australia will spend a considerable amount of time “grooming” their victim, laying down and reinforcing their financial prowess. They will talk about the expensive things they own, or traveling to opulent places to give their story authenticity3.
  1. We’re in this together. Psychologists call this “false team building,” where the person starts using language to generate a sense of partnership and togetherness. It’s a very useful technique in persuasion, and it should send up a flag whenever someone you just met does this, either in person or online4.
  1. The big ask. Some big expense will come up and they are just in between one huge pay out and another, but here’s the thing: they don’t actually ask. They wait for the victim to volunteer, maybe even refusing the help at first. Then the assurances follow that it will just be a week, tops, until they return the money.
  1. It might not be money. Some victims have been asked to store contraband, to resell electronics, or cash money orders. Nigeria is apparently a hotbed for this type of con. There are also bored and anti-social people out there who get a sick thrill out of manipulating people emotionally. The victims of this particular confidence game are often young people2.





  1. http://consumer-law.lawyers.com/consumer-fraud/internet-love-scams-are-still-going-strong.html
  2. http://www.onlinesafetysite.com/P1/Teenstats.htm
  3. The Sociopath Next Door, Stout, Martha. 2006 Random House
  4. The Gift of Fear, De Becker, Gavin. 1997, Little Brown and Company


About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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