Scam Savvy Students

I had a very interesting discussion with my class this morning on a wide range of topics related to technology and a lot of issues gaining publicity in the press. It started with a few observations about the MYLU (Middle Years Learning Unit) use and misuse of our school's internet access. I was pointing out that a few students were using our connection to add a few mp3's to their folder on our school network, then connecting their thumb drives to take them home. So we talked a lot about how sharing of mp3 copies of songs was illegal (although hard to police) but also breaches moral standards. It was interesting to listen without too much judgement to some students' surprise that websites advertising free mp3 downloads weren't legitimate and that taking a copy from a secondary source (a friend or a website hosting the file) was no different to "stealing a CD."

This led onto talk about the fact that some of the mp3 sites were in fact, scam sites offering low grade or imitation versions of popular songs that required the user to enter their e-mail address to get the file. This was a great opportunity for me to test out the media assertion that kids like my students are easy targets for internet scams. Greg Gebhart, of NetAlert, gave many such examples at his presentation at CEGSA this year so I dusted one of them off to see if the kids could spot the scam. There's one that goes along the lines of "Buy an iPod for $1". As soon as I mentioned that much, a chorus of voices rang out, "I've seen that one!" And it didn't take long before a student pointed the scam, "They're only after the credit card number." Well spotted, I thought. Maybe these guys are more aware than the media would have us believe. I had to admire the eleven year old logic that believes it can outwit the scammers! One boy then suggested that as long as you were definitely getting the iPod, it was just a matter of contacting the bank and setting the monthly limit of the credit card down to the solitary dollar!
The flow on effect of this group conversation led two girls to admit they had been the victims of a mobile phone scam where to receive a free ringtone, they had to TXT in their phone number. There was fine print involved that wasn't clear or accessible to them and they had both had their $50 credit limit drained with the monthly fees required that they hadn't seen coming. One girl said she had gotten her money back after her father contacted the company and applied some pressure. The fact that the company caved in so readily tells you something as well. Other tactics the kids were aware of included two way fees for certain services - $2 cost for you to ring the service and a $2 cost also for you when you are rung back. Not all of my students were clued in however - one mention of the dreaded Crazy Frog ringtone and some kids were all hyped up, "Yeah, cool, I'd want that for sure!"

However, on the whole, the class showed a pleasing awareness of some of the scam tactics involved on the web and in the marketing of ringtones and SMS games. They knew signing up for something free (games, screensavers and emoticons) with their email address meant signing up for piles and piles of spam. And no-one thought that $1 for an iPod was such a good deal anymore!

Image credit: SCAM by Peter Kovacs, Flickr Creative Commons.

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