People of all ages can easily fall victim to phishing scams. Often, we hear about the elderly being tricked out of thousands of dollars by online criminals, but they aren’t the only ones who are especially vulnerable to fraudulent emails.
Children are also highly susceptible to hackers and thieves, and unless you take the time to educate your kids about phishing, your home computers could be infected with dangerous malware — or worse.
Why Kids Are Vulnerable to Attack
Most security experts agree that the majority of large scale phishing attacks are random crimes of opportunity: The scammers send out thousands of fake messages, expecting that most will be ignored or deleted, but some will get a response and they can launch malware, collect information, or both. Unfortunately, because the strategy works — and the majority of large-scale data breaches actually stem from phishing messages — phishing remains a significant problem in the realm of cybersecurity.
The good news is that many people have learned to identify and avoid phishing message. The bad news? Hackers are becoming cleverer all the time, and making it harder to identify harmful messages, something that’s especially dangerous to kids, who may not yet have the skills to identify them.
Further compounding the problem is the natural fact that kids and teens have a tendency to be more gullible than adults in general. Their brains haven’t yet fully developed, and they don’t have the knowledge and life experience yet to discern what is real and what might be too good to be true.
While an older teen or adult knows right away that he or she hasn’t won a major prize, for example, a younger child might not be as skeptical. Kids tend to take things at face value, and if a message looks to come from an authority or a legitimate service provider that they use, they are more likely to respond and get into trouble.
Protecting Your Kids
So what’s a concerned parent to do? Installing powerful parental controls and security protections, including antivirus for Mac, on all devices is a great first step, and can keep most phishing messages from even appearing. However, there’s always a possibility that one will sneak through, and when that does happen, your kids need to be able to identify them. To help:
- Teach your kids some of the telltale signs of a phishing message. These include misspellings and poor grammar (admittedly, something that many kids may not notice), requests for login or account information, links in the message, and a “from” email address that doesn’t match the supposed sender. If you receive a phishing message in your inbox, show your kids what it looks like so they can see the signs for themselves.
- Remind your kids that real messages won’t ask for sensitive information. Reputable companies will never send a request for passwords or other account information by email.
- Establish a “When in doubt, ask” policy. Kids tend to be impulsive, but teach them to check with you before responding to any email that looks suspicious. Again, phishing emails may look like they came from a legitimate source, so teach your kids to ask you to take a look at anything that they aren’t sure about.
- Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Remind your kids that the chances of winning a foreign lottery, a vacation, or another big prize are highly unlikely — especially when they never entered a contest or drawing.
- Remind kids to protect their passwords and personal details online. Many kids enjoy playing online games, social media, and other online activities that could put them at risk. Monitor these activities closely, and teach kids to keep their personal information, including passwords, to themselves. Again, if they need help with something, they should come to you first, and never share information online.
- Prohibit unapproved downloads. Require kids to check with you before they download anything from the internet.
Supervising your kids’ online activities is a powerful first line of defense against phishing and other cybercrime. You might also want to consider identity theft protection for your kids, on the chance that they do fall prey to a phishing email and their information is exposed. However, when you teach kids how to handle suspicious messages and install the right protections, the likelihood of that happening decreases significantly.