BBB: App scams targeting teens

BBB: App scams targeting teens

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When children have phones or smart devices, they likely also have access to apps. That means it’s up to a parent or guardian to decipher which ones they should be allowed to have, and which ones may carry a risk. Some apps are easy to judge, but those that provide communication with other users may be harder to decide if and where there’s danger.

The Better Business Bureau often hears of people falling victim to scammers infiltrating social media apps. This is a key method for con artists and criminals to get to kids’ personal information or photos without them knowing it. A report by cybersecurity company Tenable outlines scams they have discovered on some of the apps most popular with teens.

In one type of scam, users stole videos from Snapchat and Instagram of women in bikinis, dancing or working out. They then directed viewers to a Snapchat account that they said contained nude photos. Once users went to Snapchat, they would see videos and photos that would vanish in 24 hours of a woman displaying nudity. Eventually, scammers would lead users to links to adult dating sites. The scammers made money when users clicked on these sites or became a paid user. A spokesman for Snapchat said it shut down the accounts and pointed to the company’s rules again pornography and illegal activities.

In another scam, users would impersonate TikTok influencers claiming to be a fan account or a backup account for a popular TikTok user. This allows them to get to more users and their information. Other accounts sold followers and likes for TikTok accounts and other social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, and Google-owned YouTube.

These examples illustrate how important it is to know what type of information your child is putting onto these social sites and what can be done with it. Here are some suggestions that the Better Business Bureau recommends for parents to protect children and their information when choosing an app.

  • Take time before you download an app. It’s easy to hit “Install” and accept the terms without thinking. Take time to research the app you’re downloading before giving access to your devices. Read reviews and do a Google search of the app or the developer’s name. Scammers use apps to collect information, swindle consumers into recurring fees, and more.
  • Pay attention to what permissions you are giving when downloading an app. Many apps will ask for access to certain features of the device upon startup. (Camera, phone, contact list, etc.) Ask yourself, “Why does this app need that access?” Most of the time, the permissions make sense, but not always.
  • Always read the fine print: Many apps have a link to terms and conditions and the privacy policy. Read those thoroughly to know how your information will be used or stored. We give a lot of personal information to apps these days! Our names, birthdays, fingerprints, and face scans. It is important to know where that information is being sent if it’s being stored, and if so, how and why.

For more tips on protecting yourself when downloading, go to or if you have fallen victim to con artists you can report your experience on to warn others.

Jeremy Johnson is the Eastern Idaho marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.


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