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How to Help Your Kids Combat Clickbait Scams

We’ve all fallen for clickbait. Sometimes it’s a juicy headline designed to spark curiosity and drive traffic to a specific website. Other times it’s a quiz that will magically reveal your celebrity look-alike. While the innocent click connected to most clickbait is seemingly harmless, some clickbait can install dangerous malware onto your devices. 

According to the FBI’s Crime Complaint Center’s 2020 Internet Crime Report, internet crime increased by 300,000 complaints from 2019 to 2020. This statistic represents a 50 percent increase over one year and losses exceeding $4.2 billion.  

Some clickbait scams exploit current events and the cultural climate, according to the Better Business Bureau. The scam-tracking organization warns consumers to be wary of any news items, links, and popups that require you to give personal information. Depending on the scam’s goal, the wrong click can result in a slew of email or text spam, malicious data mining, or even a monthly charge on your phone bill. And the hidden hook? Clickbait appears to be harmless at first glance, so we often share it with friends without understanding the entire risk.  

Critical Thinking vs. Impulse  

Clickbait relies on behavioral science. Bad actors online know that people are naturally curious. They want to understand, close their knowledge gaps, and be entertained. A popular article in Wired attributes our collective affinity for clickbait to the role emotion plays in our daily choices and to our lazy brains. We want instant gratification when filling our knowledge gaps online, cites Wired, which is why we forgo caution and opt for quick clicks we know won’t deliver on its promise.  

One way to begin changing those habits and to teach our kids to do the same is by encouraging critical thinking and strengthening our digital literacy skills. Critical thinking is more than just pausing before you click. It’s understanding the environment. Critical thinking is using websites and apps with a keen eye toward the goals, motivations, and agendas of the content provider. It’s asking questions suchy as: Where will this link take me? What’s this app or link’s goal? Do I know the person who sent me this link? What is this person, app, or website asking me to do? What risks could be on the other side of this link? 

 How to combat clickbait.

The digital world and the paths we travel are littered with malicious landmines. One way to avoid those scams is to both stay educated and layer up with protection. Here’s how you (and your loved ones) can steer clear of the digital deception of clickbait.  

Don’t fall for it.  

Avoid clicking headlines that tout exclusive, shocking, or “you won’t believe what happened next” content or footage. If it sounds outrageous or smacks of gossip, it’s likely a scam.  

Double up device protection.

Few people have the extra bandwidth to analyze internet content 24/7. For targeted protection against malware and viruses, consider comprehensive security software.   

Avoid Smishing. 

Clickbait sent via text (SMS) is called smishing, and it tends to spike during the holiday season. The link can appear from a big brand retailer and might alert you to a holiday package or encourage you to apply for a holiday loan. Do not click. Report smishing and forward the spam SMS message to the Spam Reporting Service at 7726 (SPAM). 

Avoid suspicious links. 

Avoid questionable websites that prompt you to click on links, complete a survey, or download extra plug-ins to access the content you want. Look for the ‘S’ in HTTPS in URLs when browsing online. The ‘S’ means the website is safe and secure. 

Don’t offer personal information. 

Do give personal information or banking details to unknown websites or share your password with any vendor or site.  

Hover over the link.

If you hover over a hyperlink, its web address will pop up which could lead you to unfamiliar websites.  

Trust no one—not even friends. 

Today, sadly, you can’t even trust emails and direct messages, posts, or even texts from your friends because they may have been hacked. Bad actors have found ways to drop familiar details into conversations and reach out in personable ways that immediately gain your trust. Pause and analyze before liking or sharing a link to a news item, a giveaway, or an opportunity. It may not be your friend that posted or recommended the link.  

Get choosy about content.

 You may agree with a headline or be outraged by a piece of “news,” but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Bad actors are savvy. They will exploit political division or a global tragedy and capitalize on fear by planting clickbait that is almost impossible to ignore without clicking. This tactic makes people feel emotionally compelled to share the story with others, which only increases the scam’s destruction. Look for spelling errors, poorly designed websites, and misspelled web addresses.    

If something doesn’t look right, but you’re curious about the information in the headline, stop and do your research before sharing. Go to a reliable news site to verify the information.  

There are bad actors, digital distractions, and cyber traps around every corner online. However, deciding to be intentional with your family’s online safety will render long-term habits that will shut out the bad actors online, making more room for the good stuff we all enjoy.