6 Tips to Help Your Family Against Online Scams

Erin McCowey
March 3, 2021

This week is National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), a period of time in which the US Federal Trade Commission joins forces with local, state, and national partners to bring awareness and recognition to issues surrounding online scams, identity theft, and other consumer protection issues. Having an increased reliance on technology to work, learn, and play during the pandemic has led many families to increase their online shopping and increase their social presence, inviting a little more risk into their lives regarding scams. Read these quick tips to avoid falling victim to an online scam.

  1. Compare prices online. If you are saving up for a large online purchase, shop around and compare multiple online retailers. Some things to look out for include the price (it might be too good to be true if there is an outlier listing!), shipping and return policies, and whether the retailer has measures to ensure a secure transaction. Be sure to read the reviews or use a search engine to research that product + “complaint” or “scam.”
  1. Be aware of gift card scams. Everyone likes to get a gift card as a present because you can use it to buy whatever you want. But scammers recognize this freedom too and often ask you to pay with a gift card, knowing how difficult it is to get your money back as the purchaser because it is treated like cash. Often, a scammer will call or email asking you to buy a popular gift card and once you buy it, they demand the card number and PIN to access the money loaded onto the card. If you’ve paid a scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card immediately and tell them it was used in a scam situation. You might be able to get your money back.
  1. Be wary of urgency. Common scams involve the caller insisting you’re in trouble with the government and that you owe money, without legitimate proof. They use pressure tactics to make you act immediately without having time to think, or give you an opportunity to hang up the phone and call back. So what can you do in a situation like this? Don’t relay personal information on the phone when you didn’t expect a call. A real company will not call, text, or email you asking for sensitive financial data. Know how to block unwanted calls and texts from numbers you don’t know in your phone settings. And if you’re left in doubt following a conversation, involve a trusted adult who may have a different perspective and can help you navigate the problem. 
  1. Avoid COVID-19 scams. Coronavirus vaccines are not for sale so ignore listings for home test kits, vaccinations, treatments, and offers to “skip the line.” Phishing schemes related to the pandemic are common, so don’t click on links in emails or texts that you don’t recognize. Research an organization or individual before you donate money to a pandemic-related cause. The FTC is keeping an ongoing list of coronavirus-related scams, here.
  1. Keep your devices up to date and accounts secure. Having unique and difficult-to-guess passwords is a great first step into securing your online accounts. But keep that information in a safe place where only you can access. Be mindful of the personal information you share online and while posting to social media. Enable Two-Factor Authentication when possible and don’t respond to communication asking for remote access of your computers or other devices. It is a good idea to periodically check your privacy and security settings on social media to know who can see what. If you want, it is a smart idea to review your past postings online to make sure they still present a good reflection of who you are now.
  1. Know how to spot fake online communication. Scammers are masters of deception and know how to use legitimate looking logos, design, and business details of real organizations in emails and web links. But, using generic greetings, poor presentation and obvious signs of Photoshop are clear ways that something is a scam. Bad grammar or forceful language can alert you as well. Always check that the URL is from the official company and use a search engine to confirm you can find the webpage outside of hyperlinks in an email.

While it is important to be aware of online scams ahead of time, it is too common to be in a situation where you’ve already been scammed. If that is the case, here is what to do with information from the Federal Trade Commission:

Written by

Erin McCowey

Erin McCowey is the Program Coordinator for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) where she curates the Good Digital Parenting (GDP) program, supporting parents and educators as they navigate the digital world with their children and students. Erin coordinates resources and external contributions to GDP; publishing blogs, parenting resources, and parenting tools. In her work with GDP, she aims to boost the work of other experts in this space so that parents, educators, and other stakeholders are able to benefit from an overall greater digital experience. Erin contributes to FOSI’s events and communications practice, and regularly consults with member organizations on their parenting related resources.


Erin studied Political Science and International Studies at the University of Michigan, graduating in 2017. She joined FOSI as the Program Assistant in 2018 after previously serving as a Program Intern in the summer of 2016.