DALLAS - Online shopping is booming and many marketers are targeting teens, a combination of trends that raises troubling issues for young shoppers during this holiday season.
Teens often overlook extra charges, such as shipping, that add to the cost of products, and might not detect offers that look too good to be true, says Rebecca Whitener, chief risk officer for Plano-based Electronic Data Systems Corp.
Many teens know more than their parents about using the Internet but "they don't have as much experience recognizing fraud," said Whitener, who often lectures at schools.
Whitener said teens tend to be looser than adults with passwords, often sharing them with friends, and may be less hesitant to question why a Web site asks for personal financial information, which could open them up to identity theft.
"A lot of times it's more information than the parents want their teens to be sharing," she said.
Whitener and other experts say parents can limit their teens' financial exposure by giving them prepaid debit cards instead of credit cards for Internet and cell phone expenses. Many Web sites offer a toll-free number for shoppers who don't want to send their credit card numbers over the Internet.
Concern about online safety isn't limited to teens living at home either. Some college administrators are concerned about online communities in which students swap news and photos about themselves and their friends on Web sites such as Facebook.com and Myspace.com.
Parents have another motive to monitor their children's online activity: Experts say teens are notorious for downloading free music and other files that sometimes contain viruses or spyware that can slow or damage the computer.
David Milman, chief executive of computer-repair franchise operator Rescuecom Corp., based in Syracuse, N.Y., said his technicians deal with the results of this activity all the time.
"Kids are going out and downloading free games, and they're going to Web sites where you can get free serial numbers and download copies of games and install them for free," Milman said. "The problem we find is as soon as you go to one of these crack Web sites, if you click on anything, they are loading spyware and viruses and evil software on your computer."
Milman advised parents to install firewall, anti-spam programs and Internet-filtering software such as ContentProtect, CYBERsitter or Net Nanny.