If you haven’t already, you can go ahead and add modeling scams to your list of ‘Things to Watch Out for on Social Networks’. The problem is currently in the UK according to a recent article, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening here in the U.S, too. I wrote about this exact issue a little over a year ago when Calgary police found four 16-20-year-old women who were forced into prostitution after they arrived to what they thought was a modeling agency.
The way the scams typically work is, users receive a message either through direct message or email asking them if they’re interested in modeling. The message is usually disguised to look legitimate so that it stands out from other types of spam—this can be achieved with things like fake company logos. If the user clicks through, they’re then prompted to do something else, like send in a photo via email, which is what scam artists were asking children in the UK to do. More specifically, these modeling scams were asking children to send in photos of themselves in just their underwear.
Parents, this underscores why it’s critically important to understand that while email addresses are often required to register for a site if your child is 13 or older, they shouldn’t post their email address in their profile information. And equally important, they shouldn’t provide the website or social network all the information they’re asked, like phone number, IM, address, or first middle and last name. This information is all considered PII (personally identifiable information) and meant to be protected according to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
This is why at Yoursphere we only ask for a birth date to determine if a child is under 13 or not. If they’re under 13, then we require a parent’s email, not a child’s. If 13 or older, we ask for email but it’s not used for anything other than password recovery. Finally, we don’t ask for anymore PII as it puts a child at risk—as we’ve seen plenty of times.
Obviously these scams are a concerning matter if you’re a parent, especially if your child is using a social network that was created with an adult-oriented culture in mind (Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, etc). What worries me even more is the fact that there are vastly more young children on these social networks than there were a year ago when I first wrote about it. And like I mentioned in that post, these scam artists usually target children who display any evidence of low self-esteem, which can be scary as children in early teen years or younger don’t necessarily know what they shouldn’t post about themselves online.
Parents, my advice to you remains the same: talk to your kids. Do your very best to help them understand that they shouldn’t post anything about themselves that would make them a target for one of these scams. If you have young girls, talk to them about modeling scams specifically. It’s important that they know what to open and what to delete online, whether it’s a message in Facebook or an email—usually the subject line and name of sender is enough to know whether the message should even be opened. And if you can, refrain from letting your children on adult social networks like Facebook and MySpace to begin with. There’s plenty of great content out there for them to enjoy without you or them having to worry about their safety and privacy.