Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Holiday season scams target kids

- Steve Rosen Kids & Money Questions, comments, column ideas? Reach Steve Rosen at sbrosen103­0@

One of the best gifts you can give your kids this holiday season is a lesson on avoiding identity theft. This present can last a lifetime and, better yet, no tape and wrapping paper are necessary.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking that teens and other younger consumers are not susceptibl­e to identity theft and other scams because they’ve grown up in the digital age. Quite the opposite, they make for prime targets, especially during the holiday shopping season.

In the frenzy to buy that hard-tofind holiday gift, the “impulse may be much higher to take a risk” and shop at unfamiliar online sites that may be scams, said Eva Velasquez, president and chief executive officer of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Velasquez, who has more than 30 years’ experience in fighting cyber crimes, spoke with me recently about shopping scams that target kids — and everybody else for that matter. She also shared tips to help young consumers recognize the good from the bad.

Velasquez said two scams in particular are worrisome this time of year: social media account takeovers and never-ending shopping scams.

Social media account takeovers are “particular­ly insidious” because of the chain of events and new victims that can be impacted from a single misstep on Instagram or other social media, Velasquez said. “The bad actors are using social engineerin­g to get you to share multi-factor authentica­tion codes,” known as MFAs.

With holiday shopping scams, thieves open phony apps and fake websites, and offer deals on products you seemingly can’t find anywhere else. Before placing your order, ask yourself how this unknown company has your product in stock when it’s sold out everywhere else, Velasquez said.

Other ways your kids can stay out of harm’s way:

Do your homework, especially if you are shopping from an online retailer or downloadin­g a shopping app for the first time. “The best way to avoid scams is by only shopping at retailers and online sites you are already familiar with and trust,” Velasquez said.

That said, if you are trying out a new retailer, do a quick background check with organizati­ons like the Better Business Bureau and Yelp, or even do a Google search to see what comes up, she said. Add “complaints” or “scams” to the search.

Don’t rely on a profession­al-looking website or social media account that can easily be developed, Velasquez said.

Check websites for security measures, such as padlock icons and HTTPS data encryption. “While these can be faked,” Velasquez said, “if the website is missing these things, it means it’s not secure and you should avoid giving them any informatio­n, including payment informatio­n.”

Pay with a credit card, if possible. If there is a problem with your order and you’re not getting it resolved through the retailer, dispute the charge through your credit card issuer, she said.

No legitimate retailer needs your Social Security number.

Check out free resources from groups like ITRC, the Federal Trade Commission, and the National PTA and NortonLife­Lock cyber crime partnershi­p.

“There’s no shame or embarrassm­ent in asking for help,” Velasquez said.

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