Here are some of the more common common scams that target teens and young adults.

By: Janet Fowler,

It’s not hard to scam young people. They tend to be inexperienced, have trusting natures, and often want to fit in—making them ripe pickings for fraudsters and scam artists, who know just how to take advantage of teens. Here are some of the more common common scams that target teens; given that kids virtually live and interact online, it’s no surprise that the internet is the optimal environment for many of them.

Inexpensive Luxury Goods

Have you ever seen ads online for the latest iPhone, “It” handbag, just-walked-the-red-carpet designer gown or state-of-the-art headphones being sold at just a fraction of the retail price? Many of these advertisements are simply scams aimed at unsuspecting individuals who are looking for a good deal. However, these scams don’t only exist online. Teens can be approached with too-good-to-be-true offers just about anywhere.

Information Farming

The naivety of youth often makes it easier for would-be identity thieves to phish for information, as adolescents don’t even realize that they’re handing over personal data that can be used for identity theft. Many of these scams operate online, making use of emails or pop-up windows that ask for verification of addresses, phone numbers, passwords, social security numbers, or bank or credit card account numbers. Other versions of this scam include false employment opportunities and false credit card applications—both of which require the reporting of financial information and personal details.


Some scammers run contests, with the aim being to gather entry money or personal information as a means of identity theft. Another variation exists in the form of literature or art competitions, in which creative young people can submit their work in the hopes of winning a prize or have their work published. Of course, the teen applicant wins—and is then asked to pay a sum of money for the work to actually be published or displayed. Or, the teen is required to send money with the opportunity to win an even larger prize.

False Investments and Money Transfers

Investment and money transfer scams operate in many different ways. Although these scams don’t necessarily target teens, they may be more likely to fall victim to them. It generally starts when they receive an email from a foreign businessperson who claims to need help moving funds abroad. Or, they get an offer to invest in a great opportunity with huge payouts (often known as a Ponzi scheme). Or, they are offered a quick and easy way to make money by recruiting others—a pyramid scheme. Although many of these scams operate in the online world, they exist in other forms as well.

Scholarships and Grants

Many young people are worried about financing their higher education, and this may cause them to fall victim to scams surrounding false scholarships or grants. Many of these offers are attempts to steal personal information from students who may be looking for financial aid. Other scams focus on charging money for information on potential scholarships that may or may not actually exist.

Another variety targets young college students who have accrued debt from legitimate student loans. These older teens may be approached by people who offer to help eliminate student debt in exchange for a small fee. Once the fee is paid, the fraudster disappears without, of course, altering the student’s debt at all.

Online Auctions

Auction scams have been found to target unsuspecting teens in various ways. One scam involves an auction that the teen wins for an item that doesn’t exist or never arrives—though the teen has paid for it. Alternatively, when an unsuspecting teen is encourage to auction off possessions; the scam artist (the “auction house rep”) requires the teen to send in the item in advance, before the buyer’s payment arrives or even before bids are placed. Of course, the funds never arrive or the auction never happens, and the rep just disappears.

Cell Phone Companies

Many teens carry around their cell phones wherever they go, creating a vehicle for potential fraud. Knowing how kids love to personalize their gadgetry, some companies target teens for “free” new ringtones and wallpaper images that arrive on a regular basis. However, what they don’t advertise—or at least, make clear—is that this service comes with a hefty fee that’ll be added to the phone bill each month. Many of these fees appear on the phone bill with ambiguous terms making it difficult for consumers—be it the kids or their parents—to realize what they’re paying for.

The Bottom Line

It’s an old but eternally important life lesson: If anything looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re a parent, take the time to discuss the types of information that scammers are looking for, emphasize the need for security, privacy, and caution in sharing data. And make your children aware of any common frauds out there—especially on the internet.

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