When it comes to pressing subjects for primary school-aged children, you could be forgiven for thinking that fraud doesn’t need to be top of the list: for a start, there’s no Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol episodes dedicated to it. However, fraud is growing in a number of ways – according to data from UK Finance, the collective voice of the country’s banking and finance industry, a whopping £1.6 billion of unauthorised fraud was stopped in 20201 (equivalent to £6.73 in every £10 of attempted fraud). MoneySense research2 showed that only 17% of parents said understanding the importance of keeping money safe was one of the most important concepts their children need to grasp. But with all the research suggesting fraud is a growing threat, and with more and more children going online at an earlier age, it’s a topic that parents need to be more aware of as their children grow up.
No longer limited to identity theft and hackers, today’s fraud can occur in multiple ways, and sadly no one is immune. However, the good news is that help is at hand, both to inform you about the dangers and to arm you with the best ways to broach the subject with your children as they begin to explore the online world.
As the internet and social media grows at an exponential rate, so too do the ways in which fraudsters look for ways to scam us. Alongside longer-standing methods including phishing, hacking and malware, today’s scams span multiple platforms and ever-more elaborate schemes. In June 2018 Action Fraud reported a rise in crimes involving Fortnite3, the online video game with more than 250 million players worldwide: players were being convinced by other scammers to visit a third-party website where they could buy “free” currency to use within the game, where they were told to enter their bank details to verify their account was real. On average, those targeted were scammed out of £146 each. Research from 2021 showed that a fifth of all gamers had been scammed or knew someone who had been scammed, but only one third knew how to spot a scam.
We spoke to Liz Stanton MBE, Family Protection Manager at Get Safe Online, the UK’s leading online safety website, to ask her how internet fraud was changing. “Criminals are very canny,” she says. “In online gaming, they assume the identity of their target, so they’ll play alongside kids as if they’re the same age as them, and slowly coerce them into sharing information. On other platforms like YouTube and Facebook they use other mechanisms: ‘like and share’ scams which harvest data, or clone sites and pop-ups promising children they’ve won a shiny prize.”
However, Liz says that we need to keep this threat in perspective and approach the online world in the same way we do the real world. “There are dangers in everything we do, but we don’t want to blow it out of proportion – we just need to be smart about it. You wouldn’t send your child off to their first day of secondary school without doing a prep run with them and showing them where to get on and off the bus. It should be the same online: open conversations about the principles need to be the norm. They need to understand not just the tool, but the process behind it and the dangers associated with it as well as the opportunities.”
Most social media sites require users to be 13 or over, and Fortnite is rated 12+, so the risk of fraud shouldn’t technically face most primary-aged children. However, according to Ofcom4, 64% of eight to eleven year-olds use social media (60% have their own account), and that number rises to 91% for 12-15-year-olds (89% have their own account). Other social media platforms are also used by scammers targeting children: figures from the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System (Cifas) in September 2021 showed a 78% year-on-year increase in accounts of people aged under 21 bearing the hallmarks of money mule activity.
“Parents need to be smart when it comes to when they allow their kids to use social media platforms and age-restricted games,” says Liz. “If they’re not yet savvy in the real world, they’re not going to be ready online. But these conversations need to take place either way, since children may find other means to access these worlds.” So, as a parent, what can you do about it?
“The most important thing you can do to avoid your child being the target of online fraud is to be honest,” says Zara D’Souza, a MoneySense Volunteer and Community Banker from South London. “Talking to your child about the potential dangers before they go online is important. I liken it to learning to drive: you wouldn’t get your licence without knowing the rules of the road. Encourage them to talk to you and ask you if they encounter anything they’re unsure of.”
“Most children will learn about online safety at school, but they don’t yet have the life skills to back it up,” says Liz. “Luckily, there are lots of tools and resources out there to help protect you and your children against online fraud.” Here are eight steps she recommends families take when they’re going online.
1. PARENTAL CONTROLS:
“There are settings for absolutely everything, but you have to be vigilant – are your children using a hand-me-down device that doesn’t have the appropriate settings? Is your family computer shared, in which case does everyone have a private log-in? You also need to keep checking the settings are correct as children are tech savvy and can find their way around them if they want to.”
2. TALK ABOUT IT:
“Before they use a device for the first time, sit down and talk to your child about it so they know what is and isn’t appropriate. If it’s a game, play it with them: that way not only do you understand the mechanisms of the game but your child will feel able to discuss it with you if anything happens that they’re unsure about. Likewise, agree boundaries of when and how long they’re allowed to play.”
3. DON'T SAVE YOUR DETAILS:
“Some games will require a bank card in the set up, but don’t save them – that way you won’t be caught out when your child is tempted to buy new add-ons like skins or V-Bucks. Better still, if they have birthday or pocket money, you could load that onto a prepaid card so that there’s a limit to what they spend, and it’s their own money they’re parting with. It’ll make them consider the purchase more carefully.”
4. ENSURE YOUR TECH IS UP TO DATE:
“Make sure your devices are running on the most up to date software, and ensure you have antivirus protection – don’t just rely on pop-up blockers and filters. Scammers are always working on new ways to get into your data.”
5. TURN OFF LOCATION SETTINGS AND BLUETOOTH:
“Many games, apps and websites ask for access to this information in their T&Cs – don’t accept. Better yet, see if there’s a way for your child to access the games without being online as they play.”
6. USE STRONG PASSWORDS:
“Encourage your child to come up with a strong password – make sure it isn’t anything do with them, or their favourite things, which makes it easier for others to guess. Ensure they tell you, a trusted adult, but never share it with anyone else – not even friends.”
7. GAUGE THE AGE:
There’s a good reason why games, apps and social media sites have age restrictions. Ultimately, every parent knows their child and will decide if they’re ready to be active on these. Check out the Net Aware website by the NSPCC – it’s a great resource for finding out more about each game or app and will help you assess their suitability.”
8. DON’T BE AFRAID:
“With so much to think about and so much negative press, it’s easy to forget that this technology can also be really positive, teaching some valuable life skills and encouraging kids to interact. The best approach is always to have an open dialogue and agree family rules up front. Remember that parents have to observe those rules, too – no phones at the dinner table includes you, too!”