Successful scam artists thrive on identifying a victim’s weakness and then exploiting that area for their monetary gains. Those who are trusting or naïve are often the prime targets for these con artists. One group that fits the bill would be children, and the parents of children who would go to any links to improve the lives of their offspring.

There are many different methods scammers use to target trusting children and their frazzled parents. Whether stealing the identity of an infant or preying on the teen looking to go to college, these thieves constantly come up with new and awful ways to steal from kids and their families. Here are a few to look out for:

This is a growing problem. The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a report stating that over 400,000 children are victims of identity theft every year. This number is growing at an alarming rate.

Many times parents will suddenly find themselves hounded by creditors who look to collect on defaulted credit cards and excessive bills that were accrued under their child’s name and social security number. The FTC has reported cases of this happening with children as young as eleven months old.

Hard to believe but those who find themselves tracked by down creditors looking to collect on bills in their children’s names are often the lucky ones. They know about the problem and begin the long process of fixing their child’s credit before they come of age.

One seventeen-year old recently visited the bank to open his first bank account, only to learn someone had stolen his social security number several years earlier and had defaulted on credit cards and defrauded businesses across the country under several different names. Because no one runs credit reports on youngsters, it’s easy to understand how this crime can go unrealized. Not until they look to open an account of some kind or apply for college does the spotty history of their social security number come to the young person’s attention.

And while the children pay the price, many times the blame lies with the parents’ lax attention to protecting this incredibly sensitive information. It’s important to take precautions:

Always destroy documents containing social security numbers if throwing them away. Dumpster diving is a prime way crooks steal these numbers.

Keep your computer safe with the newest anti-virus software and updates. Many Trojan programs will log keystrokes and send them back to the hackers. It’s just a matter of time before they are able to pick out the social security numbers. And a child’s is the most attractive.

Be sure the Bluetooth or Wireless network you are using is encrypted and secure. If not then all of your family’s personal information is at risk.

Most parents will do anything to ensure their children’s health. These days one can’t turn on the TV or radio without hearing about the latest health scare, and the atmosphere of fear is something the scammer will look to exploit.

Just last month the FDA issued warning about H1N1 fraudulent scams, and one of the most popular targeted the parents of infants and young children.

Parents often look to nutritional supplements as a means of boosting their child’s immune system. Some fraudulent companies are taking advantage of this, according to the FDA, and releasing products aimed at children that claim to diagnose, alleviate, treat, prevent or even cure H1N1. These products are bogus and the claims illegal.

Recently a generic alternative of Tamilflu was confiscated at the border and upon testing was found to mostly contain Vitamin C.

These scams often start with a stranger approaching a parent in the mall or some public place. They claim the kid has a “special look” and that they are an agent or manager and are pretty sure they could book the child work in the entertainment industry. They give the family their card and tell them to call and set up an appointment.

During that appointment the real scam begins. Suddenly the visit to a talent agency turns into a high-pressure sales pitch. Your child needs modeling or acting classes that they provide for several hundred to several thousand dollars. Or in order to sell you child they need to do a screen test or need to set up a professional-photo shoot for headshots.

This is all bogus. Legitimate agencies may require certain materials, but they will recommend third parties for this. These bogus companies will take your child’s picture or stick them in some expensive classes, but what they won’t do is actually book them any work.

The truth is the market for child actors, especially infants and toddlers, is very small. The truth is, because youngsters’ looks change so quickly, professional photos become quickly outdated. Infants, in particular, are never expected to have pro photos. Legitimate agents, talent scouts, and casting directors will ask for casual snapshots to market a young child. If someone is pressuring to get your kid’s picture so they can get them entertainment work, then they are most likely a scam artist.

As a child prepares to leave the nest, many families are faced with the daunting task of coming up with the funds to send the young man or woman to college. There are plenty of scam artists out there who look to make money off of these families who are trying to save money.

While there are many legitimate scholarships available, most financial aid comes from the federal government or the colleges themselves. Scholarship finders who claim “millions of dollars in private scholarship money go unused every year” should be treated with caution. Consider, most private scholarships are funded for specific applicants with certain career interests, or members of particular church organizations. These scholarship funders are eager to get their money to qualified students, so it doesn’t make sense for them to keep them a secret.

Here are some lines to look out for, according to the FTC’s Scholarship Scams:

You can’t get this information anywhere else. – There are numerous free listings of available scholarships. A little research at your school, local library or online should give you plenty of options before you pay a third party to do so for you.

I need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship. – Be incredibly wary of anyone making such a request. Research the potential grant thoroughly and get the terms in writing. This could be a con artist looking to make an unauthorized withdrawal.

We’ll do all the work. – Don’t fall for it. There are no two ways about it; your child must be personally responsible for applying for all scholarships and grants.

You’ve been selected by a National Foundation to receive a scholarship. Or, you’re a finalist in a contest you never entered. – Before your family sends money of any kind to apply for a scholarship, check it out. Make sure the contest or foundation are legitimate and not just another company whose primary goal is collecting nominal fees from thousands of students without actually delivering any college monies.

The scholarship will cost money. – Never pay someone who claims to be “holding” a scholarship or grant for your child. Free money shouldn’t come with costs attached.

In addition, consider foregoing financial aid consultants advertising there ability to help students through the confusing financial aid process and offer tricks to beat the system. The truth is that financial aid forms are pretty straight-forward and simple. And there aren’t really any tricks to the process. A financial aid officer is looking to grant the money they have available based on their school’s award criteria. You either meet it or you don’t.

An aid officer is your strongest ally in the process, and many will view the employment of a consultant, and some of the actions they might suggest (such as moving assets around to reduce the appearance of your worth), as red flags. If they get the feeling you are deceiving them, they might consider refusing the application outright.

These are just a few of the ways the scammers try to make a living off of our children, from birth to college, while they are still under our care. Stay alert and diligent. Raising a child comes with enough built in dramas and stress of its own, don’t allow a scam artist to get the best of your family because you didn’t recognize the signs.

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