What's the scam? Fraudsters lure tweens and teens onto websites by promising them free stuff, including video gaming systems and other popular electronics, in exchange for playing games, watching videos and filling out surveys, says Jeremy Gin, the co-founder of SiteJabber.com, a consumer protection service that helps people avoid fraudulent sites.
While these websites are around all year long, kids tend to be more attracted to them around the holidays. One reason is because teens and tweens are busy surfing the web researching the latest and greatest toys to ask Mom and Dad to buy them at Christmas. And while they're searching legitimate sites, the illegitimate ones pop up too.
A second reason is because you may have already laid out a list of items you don't plan to buy your kid this holiday season. So if you're not going to give him an Xbox 360 and he doesn't have the money to buy it on his own, then these websites that promise him a free game system are almost too tempting to pass up, says Gin.
So what happens if your teenager does start giving out his name, email address and other personal information? His data is then sold to marketers and in a worst case scenario it could be used for identity theft. Parents also need to worry about "cookies" and malware when kids go onto these sites.
As for those prizes, chances are your kid is never going to actually get his hands on a new iPad or Xbox. These sites require users to fill out endless surveys and watch too many videos, which force most people to give up after a couple of weeks. And even if your youngster sees the process through, the scam artists make it so difficult to redeem the prizes that nearly no one ever wins, says Gin. In the rare case your kid does actually score an Xbox, chances are he will be told that the gaming system is currently out-of-stock.
What's a parent to do? Buying your kid whatever he wants clearly isn't the answer. Sure, it would stop the temptation to chase free stuff, but it would create so many other issues. Instead, warn your child to avoid these sites and to NEVER give out his personal information. Then, if he really feels he must have the latest gaming system, let him earn it the old fashioned way by saving up his allowance or by getting a job, if he's old enough to work.
Finally, parents who aren't sure if a website is legit or not can look it up on SiteJabber.com.
Do you know if your kids are giving their personal information away online?
Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
XBox 360 Fun image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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