Targeted teens: How online scammers are exploiting the “Screenage” generation

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Our generation has grown up with computers and smartphones, so it’s no surprise that our confidence online is high. The teenage generation is incredibly reliant on the internet for school, social life, and everything in between, so it’s important to understand the risks of online scamming. Many teens navigate the internet without knowing the signs of a scam.

According to the FBI, almost 15,000 scam incidents were reported by teens aged 19 and younger in 2021. Personal information is not the only thing at risk in these scams; losses of up to $101.4 million were reported from the statistics above. Most of these incidents can be split into two genres, personal data seizing scams and online finance scams. Some accounts on social media are “catfishing,” or acting as someone they are not through fake profiles, to befriend teens and get physical addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and more from their victims. An Instagram DM request or a text from an unknown number could be the beginning of a catfishing scheme. The second genre of these schemes involves transferring money to untrustworthy accounts via online shopping, fake scholarships, or redeeming “free” prizes like iPads or Amazon gift cards. Most scam emails start off as something called a phishing email, where the sender is asking the recipient to respond with personal information or asking the sender to click a link that will route them to a location for personal data capture. Phishing and scam email senders usually pretend to know the recipient by gathering social media interests.

Online scams have infiltrated the FUSD community through an unexpected source: teacher and staff FUSD emails. Washington senior Mehreen Rosmon shares her experience with a recent scam in which she received an unexpected email from a past teacher. The first email was a vague introduction, asking her to “do a favor” for this teacher, and after her response she received a request to purchase Apple gift cards for this teacher’s niece. Mehreen says she had interacted with the teacher via email before and “didn’t think very much of it at first.” This scam is particularly dangerous because oftentimes students are afraid of rejecting a teacher’s request when their grade is on the line. The district has recently confirmed a new mandatory training this year that includes a 40 minute cyber security online seminar to cover “Email and Messaging Safety, Password Security Basics and Protection Against Malware.” However, this program is for teachers and staff, not students.

Fremont Unified Chief Technology Officer Melvin Easley shares this advice with The Hatchet: “I always tell people if it looks suspicious and you do not recognize the sender, DO NOT offer or give personal information.” This advice is helpful, but in cases like Mehreen’s, the sender was known to her, so, how do students protect themselves from online scammers? The key is awareness. When you know what to look for, you know how to avoid these schemes. Watch out for online deals that are too good to be true, social media accounts that ask for private information, fake employment or scholarship offers, and any suspicious URLs when navigating the internet. Mr. Easley recommends reporting any fraudulent email issues to a teacher or a parent/guardian to alert the FUSD technology department with details as they are becoming “more and more prevalent” in our district.

Ava Paine is a current senior at Washington High School; this is her first year at The Hatchet. Born and raised in Fremont, she is interested in reviewing local restaurants and books. Ava is varsity captain of the girls tennis team, participates in varsity cheerleading, and is president of WHS Interact and WHS Model UN. In her free time she loves to bake, take care of her houseplants, play with her labrador retriever, read, and listen to Taylor Swift. In the future, she hopes to study international relations or law.

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