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Australian teens’ brains make them vulnerable online shopping scams

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Being a digital native doesn't seem to stop you from becoming a digital scam victim; figures show increasing numbers of Australian teenagers are being ripped off, as their developing brains make it difficult for them to spot a scam.

Last year children under 18 lost more than $170,000 to scams, according to the latest figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s latest annual scam report.

Suncorp Behavioural Economist Phil Slade said the prefrontal cortex is still developing in teenagers, making them unable to make decisions or solve problems as quickly as adults do so they are naturally more susceptible to being misled.

“One of the best ways to help our teens avoid being scammed is to teach them financial literacy skills at an early age, to help them question things when dealing with money,” Slade said.

Kids and scams

  • Children (under 18) lost more than $170,792 to scams last year (up from $115,074 in 2017).
  • Queensland Department of Education Transition Support Services In 2018, 1449 children reported being scammed (up from 1004 in 2017).
  • The biggest losses were to online shopping scams ($65,755), followed by prize or lottery scams ($23,850) and classified advertising scams ($18,590).

Financial Basics Foundation Chair Brigid Leishman said that the increasing volume of scams is just another reason that financial literacy must be addressed by schools.

“In today’s click and spend world, it’s important that we educate young people on how to make smart financial choices,” Leishman said.

“The online Suncorp ESSI Money Challenge where teenagers can learn about scams and dodgy deals in a safe place will launch on August 26. The Challenge is free for students to enter and we encourage every Australian high school student to take part.

The Financial Basics Foundation is calling on teachers to register from August 5 for their classes to enter the 2019 Suncorp ESSI Money Challenge. The Challenge teaches students valuable money lessons and tests their skills against students throughout Australia.

As well as bragging rights, the winning students have a chance to win up to $1500 for themselves and their school.

Slade said many teenagers fell for fake online shopping sites promising them bargains but delivering nothing.

“Many can act impulsively, they see something they really want, it looks cheap and they want to click on it and pay before they miss out,” he said.

How to talk to teens about scams

  • Be open. Speak openly and honestly about your financial experiences including when you regretted buying something or felt you were
  • Track credit card spending. If your teen has access to your card, establish a rule of “talking before spending”. Transparency can be a huge.
  • Learn to smell a scam. Look at sites with your children that are known scam sites and help them learn to ‘read the signs’. is a great place to start.
  • Be wary of secrecy. Scammers often try to isolate the victim, or coach them to hide transactions from others “who wouldn’t understand”. Teach your kids this is a sign that they may be scammers.
  • The stronger your bond with them, the more likely they are to talk about decisions they are making and the less susceptible to scams they become.

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