Those We Trust the Most! Beware of BBB Scams.

Fake BBB Email

Just Because it Says “BBB” Doesn’t Mean It’s The Better Business Bureau…
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Not all crooks are dummies. In fact, many are very smart. How many times have you heard the sentiment, “If only they’d use their skills for legitimate purposes…”? These clever con men know the businesses and brands that we trust and they take advantage of that trust by using an iconic symbol, like the Better Business Bureau (BBB), to lull us into a false sense of security when we see their logo, all in an attempt to separate us from our money.

If you own or work for a small business, be careful not to automatically take email messages you receive from the BBB at face value. There are a handful of hoaxes that seem to resurface every year using the BBB’s good name and mark to trick us. These email scams all start similarly with fraudulent email messages posing as the BBB. The fake emails are often signed with the address of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which is the national office of the BBB system. The email messages are very convincing looking, often using what appears to be standard BBB formatting, including details like a user ID, reference number, and password, which are similar to the authentic complaint case notices from the real BBB. The messages are usually well written with good grammar and no spelling errors. Here are three angles the spammers have taken:

FOLLOW-UP ON COMPLAINT FILED WITH BBB — An email with the subject line “Complaint from your customers” may be a scam. Just like the real ones, the fake emails inform you that a customer has filed a complaint about a negative experience they’ve had with your company. The messages often include language, such as:

We encourage you to use our ONLINE COMPLAINT system to respond to this complaint.

The following URL (website address) below will take you directly to this complaint and you will be able to enter your response directly on our website:

Often the email refers the recipient to a zip file attachment, which supposedly contains a copy of the complaint.

Do Not Open the Attachment or Click On the Link!

When you receive this type of notice, your first instinct might be to jump right in and resolve the complaint by opening the attachment or clicking on the link provided in order to view the details, just as they suggest. Don’t click it, it may link to a non-BBB website. Instead, hover your mouse over the website address or URL (the part that begins with http://). That may reveal the actual address, which may not be BBB at all. Then again, it may not, so still tread lightly even if it appears to be a BBB website address. The link might actually take you to a rogue website that downloads malicious software onto your computer in the form of a virus, like a trojan, or other malware such as a botnet, all of which are ultimately designed to steal banking information and passwords.

REQUEST FOR UPDATED CONTACT INFORMATION “AS A SERVICE TO BBB ACCREDITED BUSINESSES” – Another tact the fake emails take is to appeal to your sense of system integrity, as in the following:

As a service to BBB Accredited Businesses, we try to ensure that the information we provide to potential customers is as accurate as possible. In order for us to provide the correct information to the public, we ask that you review the information that we have on file for your company.

We encourage you to use our ONLINE FORM to provide us with this updated information. The URL below will take you directly to this form on our website:

…Please look carefully at your telephone and fax numbers on this sheet, and let us know any and all numbers used for your business (including 800, 900, rollover, and remote call forwarding). Our automated system is driven by telephone/fax numbers, so having accurate information is critical for consumers to find information about your business easily…

CONFIRMING CLOSURE OF A COMPLAINT FILED WITH BBB – Another way to get businesses to open malicious attachments or fake links is to draw your attention to a “resolved” complaint that you knew nothing about until now. Again, the email message is “phishing” to get you to open a file or click on a link in pursuit of answers to this supposed complaint, as follows:

Dear Company:
As you are aware, the Better Business Bureau contacted you regarding the above-named complainant, seeking a response to this complaint. Your position is available online.

The following URL (website address) below will take you directly to this complaint and you will be able to view the response directly on our website:

…The complainant has been notified of your response.
The BBB believes that your response adequately addresses the disputed issues and/or has exhibited a good faith effort to resolve the complaint. The complaint will close as “Administratively Judged Resolved” and our records will be updated.

If you fail to honor your agreement or if the consumer has information that disputes the accuracy of your firm’s response, we will notify your office with substantiation to support the consumer’s position and the case will be re-opened. Cases will not be re-opened without documentation or good cause…

BBB Spammer/Phisher/Hacker

Until Proven Otherwise… Assume This Guy Sent You That Email — Not the BBB
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What To Do If You Receive an Email…

Though you might, at first, be concerned that your business has a disappointed customer, make sure the “complaint” passes the sniff test first. In other words, if you don’t have any clients or customers who pay for your company’s products or services in advance, then it’s unlikely they need to involve the BBB to remedy things.

Question the timing and supposed affiliations referenced in the email. If your business is a CPA firm and the email ties your company to the American Institute of CPAs during tax season, don’t assume it stands to reason so it must be legitimate.

  • DO NOT open any attachments or click on any links to a website.
  • If you are not certain whether the complaint is legitimate, contact your local BBB (
  • Read emails carefully with a critical eye and look for clues of fakes, such as misspellings, poor grammar, generic or non-specific greetings.
  • Don’t be tricked into reacting too quickly by urgent instructions such as, “Click on the link or your account will be closed.”
  • Delete the email from your computer completely by emptying your “Deleted Items”, “Trash”, or “Recycle Bin”.
  • Forward the email to or alert them at so the BBB’s security team can track the fraudsters. The BBB Council warns businesses and consumers that the return email address,, is not valid for the BBB.
  • Keep your antivirus software up-to-date at all times by running updates frequently, or better yet, have them set to update automatically. If you’ve already clicked on a link in the e-mail, run a full virus scan of your computer. Using an antivirus, spam filtering, and firewall software helps protect your business against the risks of malware attacks, such as botnets and trojans.

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Fake Website: What is Spoofing?

Spoofing - Phishing Emails and Fake Websites

By now, chances are you’ve heard the preaching about how important it is to have good, strong passwords – and how your passwords should contain at least twelve digits and be peppered with special characters whenever possible.  You’ve also probably heard you should have a different password for each and every account or website you frequent. And let’s just assume you’re heeding that advice.

Regardless of how long, strong, or clever your passwords may be, none of that matters if you share your passwords with the wrong person.  So it goes without saying that you wouldn’t willingly or knowingly give your password to just anybody. In fact, as wise as you are, you probably wouldn’t share any of your passwords with someone else. However, in spite of your prudent intentions, you might do just that if you’re not extremely careful.

With today’s sophisticated “phishing” and “spoofing” tactics, you could easily be duped into providing your login credentials for a website by typing your user ID and password into what you think is the real website, but in actuality, it’s a very convincing fake.  These lookalike or “spoof” websites appear to be the real thing, so much so that you could easily be lulled into providing your username and password without batting an eye.

It’s important to understand how and why you might end up on a fake website in the first place. Often it starts with a phishing email message you receive.  The email is fake and comes from an online scam artist posing as a credible organization that you trust and with which you normally conduct business.  The emails can truly seem authentic, containing believable imitations of the company’s logo.  But because they are contacting you, and through email no less, you should put your “suspicious” shoes on, even if nothing appears amiss.  Here’s what to do if you receive an email likes this:

First, if the message is seems overly suspicious, don’t open it at all – just delete it.

Secondly, assuming you’ve opened the message, take a look at the actual email address of the sender by hovering your mouse over the sender’s name/address, right-click your mouse to display a menu, then left-click on “Properties” to see if the message is really from who it purports to be from.  In other words, if the email says it’s from Chase Freedom, the email address should end in “”  (NOTE:  Just because the email passes this test, doesn’t guarantee you’re in the clear.  It’s easy for hackers to spoof a legitimate email address, so don’t rely solely on this check for verification.) 

Spoof emails usually contain links within the body of the message that take you to other websites.  DO NOT click on them!  First, check for fake links.  Move and hover your mouse over the link in the email message and study the URL, which is usually displayed in your system tray at the lower left portion of your screen.  If it looks suspicious, don’t click it.  Spam (phishing) emails are geared to redirect you to a spoofing website where they’ll ask you to enter your personal information.  Never respond to emails asking for your account related information, such as account number, user ID, and/or passwords.  If you want to be sure you’re visiting the authentic website of a particular organization, it’s safest to open a new browser window and type the URL yourself, such as

If you have clicked on a link and landed on a website, be sure to verify it’s not a spoofing website – even if everything else looks exactly like the real deal.  It’s possible you’ve been redirected to a webpage resembling the login screen for the business in question. BUT WAIT!  Slow down, take a minute, and think.  Spammers (aka “cyber criminals”) hope you don’t hesitate or take the time to think.  In fact, that’s exactly what they’re counting on! They want you to just plow ahead on “auto-pilot” and enter your user name and password when prompted, without thinking twice.  But if you do and the website is not the “Real McCoy”,  they’ve got what they wanted — your information!

To prevent this, anytime you are prompted by a website to enter information specific to you, whether a login, password, account number, or any other piece of information, make sure you verify you are really on the actual website and not a fake one.

  • Study the website URL in the address bar. For example, make sure it is really “” and not a deceivingly close “”. Close doesn’t cut it.  If it’s not exact, it’s not the site you want.
  • Some fake websites will insert a false address over the actual, evil address, making it appear as though you’re on a legitimate website. Just because a URL contains the name of the business in it, doesn’t mean it’s legitimate.
  • Also, look for a secure lock icon in your browser where it normally would appear, such as immediately to the right of the address bar if you’re using Internet Explorer. Check to be sure it isn’t a fake icon placed somewhere else on the page just to fool you.
  • Look for “https” before any website address (URL) where you’ll be entering personal information. The “s” stands for secure. If you don’t see “https” you’re not on a secure website and you shouldn’t enter any personal information.
  • Never respond to any online forms or popup windows asking you to login, change or update your user ID or passwords, or provide any other sensitive personal information. Only do this if you’ve initiated the visit to the company’s website yourself by typing the URL directly into your browser’s address bar.

Some of the more commonly spoofed organizations for emails and websites include financial and banking institutions like Chase, Citibank, PayPal, social media outlets, escrow service providers, as well as online commerce websites like eBay.

The intent of spamming and spoofing is to trick you into handing your personal information over to online dirtbags.  They are identity thieves, plain and simple, and they’re hoping you’re not paying attention. Make sure you slow down and scrutinize the emails you receive and verify the websites you visit. It will be worth it!

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Email Scam: My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Trip…

Email Scam: My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Trip…

It happened again this week! It seems that at least a couple of times each year, I can count on receiving an email from a friend, relative, or acquaintance, who is in distress and desperately needs my immediate financial help to make it home from a vacation-gone-wrong in some foreign land. Inevitably, it has a familiar theme, and sometimes it is verbatim what other emails I’ve received stated; other emails from other friends, who were also stranded in a land far, far away.

But we all know these emails aren’t really true and they aren’t really coming from who they say they are. However, the email message really does come from your friend’s actual email account BUT it doesn’t actually come from your friend, your unsuspecting friend. Their email account has been hacked and now some cyber scam artist is trying to dupe you, and many more good-hearted, albeit gullible, friends or relatives, into sending them money. And they almost always want the money wired.

These types of email scams have been circulating for years. The reason they live on seems due to the fact that there’s a new sucker born every minute. Meaning, they work! And as long as people keep falling for it, the scammers will prey.

Here’s the content of the message I received this week:

Subject: My Terrible Trip………..(insert name of sender)

I really hope you get this fast, my family and I came down here to Madrid, Spain for a short vacation and we were mugged at gun point last night at the park of the hotel where we lodged, all cash and credit card were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us…

We’ve been to the Embassy and the Police here, but they’re not helping issues at all they asked us to wait for 3 weeks but we can’t wait till then and our flight leaves in few hours from now but we’re having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the hotel bills, we are freaked out at the moment. Well I really need your financially assistance. Please let me know if you can help us out, write me back so I can tell you how to get it to me.

The story always ends the same. Please send money! Though your first inclination might be to help, at least do a little checking around first. And if you still have the urge to help…STOP IT!

Try performing a few simple fact-finding steps:

  • Look for clues in the body of the message. If something doesn’t sound like them, it’s because it’s not them!
  • Question whether your relationship with this person is one where they’d contact you in a crisis, not to mention ask you for money.
  • If you’re at all familiar with their writing style or ability, look for disconnects between what you know and what you’re reading. General poor writing and grammar skills might be enough to tip you off. Also, scrutinize the writer’s choice of vocabulary words. Do you know your friend to use the phrase, “freaked out?”
  • Call your friend’s home and cell phone numbers to at least try to confirm their whereabouts. Many times that will be the end of it. They’ve been home all along and have no idea what you’re talking about.
  • Check their last Facebook or other social media status to see if there was any indication of them traveling abroad. Also, check time frames between their activities to see if it’s even possible for them to be where the email purports them to be.
  • If the writer claims to be at a particular hotel or other public establishment, locate the phone number on your own and attempt to call it and ask to be connected to your friend.

My first clue that this was a hoax was that I barely know this dude sending me the email. In fact, I was surprised he even had my email address in the first place. A big second clue was the subject line, which reminded me of the classic children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst & Ray Cruz. Who does that? No matter how intriguing and entertaining the title of the email and subsequent story might be, I wasn’t about to take the bait. Don’t you either!

For another example of a common email scam, check out, “Facebook scam: Friend stuck in England needs money

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An Ounce of Prevention Can Protect Your Identity

An Ounce of Prevention Can Protect Your Identity

Your personal information is important to you.  Or is it?  It should be and you should want to protect it.  But what exactly should you want to protect and what are you protecting it from?  And how do you protect it?  Do you really need to worry about it?  And if so, can’t you just pay a service to do it for you?

Lots of questions and even more answers.  Like noses, everybody’s got an answer…or at least an opinion…and, yes, they all smell!  But some smell better than others.  Get a whiff of these tips…

Your personally identifiable information (PII) can include many things, such as bank account numbers, passwords, credit card numbers, security codes, driver’s license or state-issued ID numbers, date of birth (DOB), addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, and more.  When someone gets their hands on one or more pieces of your PII, it can potentially be used in many ways; most of them are not good.  Cyber criminals can use your information to make purchases on your credit/debit card and withdrawal or transfer funds from your bank account without your knowledge or permission.  They can also assume your identity for the purpose of opening new accounts, obtaining credit or services, or applying for loans – all under your good name!

Many services are available to monitor your information and accounts.  But these services typically alert you after the suspicious activity has occurred on one or more of your accounts.  That could be a day late and a dollar short.   (Maybe several dollars!)  Think of it this way…would you rather prevent the leak in your roof from occurring in the first place, thus, saving you the headache of cleaning up the mess at all?  Or, would you rather wait until the leak happens, making a mess and causing water damage, before you take action?  Waiting too long means a lot more damage and work for you because then you not only have to fix the leaky roof anyway but you have to clean up the mess, too!  It’s the same idea with the maintenance and protection of your valuable information.  An ounce of prevention could save you a lot of headaches down the road.

Try following these guidelines:

  • Do not carry your Social Security card with you and do not give out your Social Security number. Legitimate businesses and vendors recognize the vulnerability created for customers when they are asked to provide their SSN.  Consequently, most don’t ask for it.  And even if they ask, it doesn’t mean you’re obligated to provide it.
  • Do not carry your PIN or passwords in your wallet and choose a PIN number that’s not obvious like consecutive numbers or your birthday.
  • Regularly review your bank statements, credit card invoices, and bills every month.
  • Monitor your credit reports at least once per year.  You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax / Experian / TransUnion).  By requesting your report from one of the bureaus every four months, you can obtain three separate reports over the course of a year.
  • Shred your documents before you throw them in the trash or recycle bin.  Bills, bank statements, credit card statements, cash machine receipts, medical benefits statements, credit card and loan offers, and old credit cards can provide someone digging through your trash with a wealth of information.  Don’t give them that chance.
  • Don’t leave credit, debit, ATM card, or gas station receipts behind at terminals or machines.  Shred them like other personal documents.
  • If you’re not making your bill payments electronically or online, mail them at the post office or use a blue USPS mailbox.  Don’t put your paid bills in your mailbox for pickup.  Identity thieves make a living stealing mail with all that sensitive data.  The amount of damage an ID thief can do with just a signed personal check is limitless.
  • Be suspicious and a little bit paranoid.  Always question when someone asks you for any piece of personal information.  Give out your information sparingly.  Provide as little information as necessary and be very hesitant to give any information to someone who contacts you (vs. someone you have contacted for a specific purpose).  Never give any information to someone calling you on the phone, even if the caller says it will be used to claim a prize or award.
  • Don’t respond to phishing scams, which are fake emails and web sites that appear to be from authentic businesses.  These fakes are trying to get you to provide personal account numbers, logins, and/or passwords.  Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to update your personal information through an email.
  • Don’t click on, open, or download files received in emails or instant messages from anyone, unless you were expecting it and have verified that the file, picture, attachment or website is valid and safe.  Even if the message appears to be from friends, family members, or others with whom you are familiar, be sure to verify with the sender that they really did send it to you and that they are familiar with its contents.  A picture, attachment, or website may contain malicious content.
  • Ignore and delete emails that ask you to forward something on to your friends or contacts and don’t provide any personal information in response to chain emails.
  • Take care not to install programs unwittingly.  Often, software that is free to download online may actually be malware or an infection.  Also, beware of other programs that are bundled with the software you’re intending to download.  Read all user agreements and pay attention to boxes that are checked by default to install an unwanted program.
  • Create and use secure passwords for all accounts online.  Even though it may seem like a hassle, sophisticated software now makes it extremely easy and quick for cyber criminals to crack your passwords if they are less than twelve characters long.  Be creative and make up your own words and use special characters, if allowed.
  • Make sure you know the correct website address you wish to visit and verify it is legitimate before providing any personal information.  Be diligent about ensuring that you are really visiting the website you think you’re visiting, even if it’s one you think you frequent often.  Fake websites are remarkably good at imitating the look and feel of the real thing.
  • Be careful of any advertisements you may click on when visiting a website or that are contained within an email message you’ve received.  They, too, may contain viruses or malware.
  • Always use a firewall on your PC or laptop.  A firewall provides a security barrier between the Internet and your computer, monitoring your connection for suspicious activity and blocking hackers from accessing your machine.
  • Make sure your wireless network (Wi-Fi) is secure.  Lock down your home’s wireless network by using the security features of your wireless router. If you use a Wi-Fi connection away from home, be sure it is secure, or at the very least, avoid sending or receiving personal information over a public connection.
  • Install and always use security software (firewall, antivirus, anti-spyware software) and keep it up-to-date as a safety measure against online intrusions.
  • Always use security software and make sure it includes antivirus, anti- malware, a firewall, an email spam filter, a popup blocker, and protection against identity theft.  Keep the software up-to-date to stay safe and secure against online intrusions.
  • Use an updated Web browser to make sure you’re taking advantage of its current safety features.
  • Don’t share too much personal information online through social networking sites.  Remember, it’s the Internet and once it’s out there, it’s out there to stay.
  • Be sure to destroy all of the digital data on your hard drive when you sell, trade or get rid of an old computer.  The same goes for other storage media like thumb drives, DVD’s, CD’s, etc.  Make sure the data is completely erased and destroyed.  Besides deleting the data and reformatting the hard drive, use a product like Microsoft-backed SDelete to ensure all data is completely wiped beyond recovery from the hard drive.  Completely destroy DVD’s or CD’s by shredding them or cutting them up with scissors.
  • Be aware of the latest scams and use caution to combat fraud.  Share what you learn with your friends and family.

Following these simple preventative measures can save you big headaches down the line.  It could be worth a pound of cure!

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Don’t Take the Bait! Avoid “Phishing” Lures to Protect Your Identity

Don’t Take the Bait!  Avoid “Phishing” Lures to Protect Your Identity

So my wife asked me the other day, “Why are we getting this?”  She was referring to an email we received that said, “Your Federal Tax Payment ID:  9387589 is failed.”  I could see she was a little concerned and wanted to resolve it right away.  And that’s exactly what they want.  That’s how they get ya!  Get an unsuspecting but otherwise conscientious person, who has their stuff together, to respond quickly without questioning or verifying things.  They just want to address it and get it resolved.  Normally that’s a good thing.

Poor grammar notwithstanding, I knew without even reading the body of the email that it was a hoax – a scam.  How?  For starters, I don’t owe Uncle Sam any money for taxes last year or the several years prior.  Secondly, the number referenced in the email doesn’t even contain the correct number of digits to be a valid Social Security or tax ID number.  Even if it did, the number they provided was nowhere near my SSN.  Plus, I don’t own a business, so I don’t have a “Federal Tax ID Number” (also called an EIN “Employer Identification Number”).

Among the other clues indicating the request was bogus is the fact that our Federal government does not notify taxpayers of delinquencies, rejected tax returns, or failed electronic payments by way of an email message.  And if by chance they did, I’d hope it wouldn’t come from some random joker named “Francisco Maghee”.  Not to mention, “Francisco’s” email address prefix was a string of gibberish — “ghnqcsuvktecvy” to be exact.  Never mind that a quick Google search of the domain used in the email address (everything after the “@” symbol) revealed that a spammer had been using a legitimate organization’s domain as the “From” address on their spam emails .  And that was a far cry from a “.gov” top-level domain (TLD), which you’d expect to see from a government agency like the IRS.

Another red flag was the attachment, which I did not open!  It was an executable file (its name ended in “.exe”), which you should never click on or open, unless you’re absolutely sure of what the file contains and that it came from a trusted source.  Since neither of those conditions were the case, there’s a good chance the sender’s objective was to get one of us to click on, and therefore open, the attached file.  Opening the attachment would launch or run the executable file, possibly containing a virus, trojan, spyware, or other form of malware.  Malware can slow down or break your computer, and can be costly and time-consuming to repair.  Malware could also run a program in the background, without your knowledge, and gather your personally identifiable information (PII) for use without your consent, for evil purposes, and/or to steal your identity.

Identity theft occurs when your PII is stolen, taken without your permission, or obtained under false pretenses.  Your information is then used to do any number of things including making unauthorized purchases on your credit card, opening new credit or bank accounts, and applying for and obtaining a loan, just to name a few.

So, what if you get a “phishy” email like the one I received?  Simple.  Delete it immediately and do not open any attachments!

BOTTOM LINE:  Be skeptical.  Question everything.  Don’t be so quick to respond to inquiries received in an email.  That is, if you even respond at all.

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.

Cell Phones for Teens: Smart or Dumb?

Cell Phones for Teens:  Smart or Dumb?

As parents, my wife and I recently hit a milestone. Our oldest child became a teenager last month. As we all know, your world changes when you hit “Teendom”! But as the world changes, so does the list of “Things That Change When You Become a Teenager.” One item that wasn’t on our lists when we went through this rite of passage was getting our first cell phone. A what phone? I know, right?

So here we are. Several of our son’s friends have already had their own cell phones, some for a year or two before they hit their teens. So naturally, the number one thing on our soon-to-be teen’s birthday wish list was a phone of his own.

Our first question: “Is a 13-year old mature and responsible enough for his own cell phone?” Well, we felt that he’d demonstrated the requisite responsibility and he’d patiently waited long enough. He had earned the opportunity to prove us right or wrong, as the case may be. So that decision was easy. But the questions get tougher. There are many more decisions to make, like, “what type of phone?” A smart phone or a feature (dumb) phone? Uhh…

This question raises much debate but there’s probably no one right or wrong answer. Many parents feel a child should not have a smartphone, with all its functionality, until they are of driving age. Among some of the concerns about giving your child a smartphone (at any age), include:

  • Games and apps can be addicting and discourage socialization and interaction with others. Not to mention, if that’s your child’s primary use of the smartphone, you’re paying a lot of money for a toy.
  • A lot of time spent on a smartphone can discourage a child from getting up and moving around. This lack of exercise can lead to overweight or obese children.
  • Too much time spent looking at small screens can weaken a child’s eyesight.
  • During the adolescent years, high exposure to smartphones can adversely affect brain development, possibly leading to shortened attention spans.
  • “Checking-in” publicly to places or from locations via social media platforms or apps, such as Facebook or Foursquare, can potentially jeopardize your child’s safety and security by making their whereabouts known to predators lurking online.
  • Smartphones can be used to bully other kids or lend to your child becoming the victim of cyber-bullying, whether it’s through social media platforms, texting, instant messaging, or other apps.

Many of the concerns about teens with smartphones aren’t much different from those that exist for kids with iPod Touches or other mobile Wi-Fi enabled devices, like tablets. A few differences between smartphones and iPods or tablets include costs and managing Internet access. Wi-Fi mobile devices are generally less expensive than smartphones, mainly because there is no requirement for a monthly data plan as with cell phones. Additionally, since Wi-Fi service is required, the iPods and tablets are more likely to be used at home, where parents can more closely monitor online activities.

So, if you can work through the list of cons and none of them are show stoppers for you, take a look at the convenience and accessibility that smartphones offer. Smartphones provide many advantages to parents, as well as children, including the following non-exhaustive list:

  • Parental controls are available for smartphones. Some are included in the operating system. Apple’s iOS allows you to turn on or off everything from the Safari Internet browser to YouTube to multi-player games in the Game Center. iOS restrictions also allow you to control access levels to movies, songs, and apps based on their ratings. For smartphones on other platforms like Android, the controls aren’t part of the operating system but there are several apps available for parents to control access and monitor activity.
  • Smartphones also allow you to keep tabs on your child using mobile apps and desktop programs like Google Latitude. Assuming their devices are with them, you can use smartphones to track your kids’ whereabouts at all times to make sure they are safe. This can be done without using any of the check-in services from one of the many social networking platforms. All the major wireless phone carriers have services that let you track the location of family members. There are several free apps that allow you to do this with no service fees, such as Apple’s Find My iPhone or the family app Life360 Family Locator.
  • Another benefit of smartphones is they provide access to additional learning resources, including apps for arts, math, science, spelling, foreign languages, and many more.
  • Smartphones also enable your child to easily find phone numbers or information they need online.
  • Google Navigation means your child shouldn’t get lost (or at least won’t stay lost for long).
  • Smartphone calendars can assist your child in remembering homework due dates, other important events and teach them how to manage their time and schedules.

It’s also becoming more and more difficult to find non-smartphone offerings from the phone carriers. The choices for feature phones are dwindling and the cost differences between the two types of phones are narrowing. It costs nearly as much to purchase a “dumb” phone as it does a smartphone. Pretty soon, that decision will be a moot point, as the decision will be made for you.

The bottom line is, for good or for bad, smartphone technology is here to stay. The key is to make it work for you and your family. Parental instruction and guidance about this technology are the most important parts of the equation. Establish rules and expectations for your teen’s cell phone usage and the potential consequences for failing to abide by those requirements. Clearly stating what constitutes appropriate use, as well as unacceptable activities, are important elements. Explain to your child that you want them to have the best communication tools available but that their use of them is a privilege and not a teenage right.

Formalize this notion by having a written cell phone agreement or contract that your child signs to indicate their acknowledgment of the rules, expectations, and consequences that govern their cell phone usage. Consider including stipulations in the agreement, such as a statement that they are not to share their location (aka check-in via social networking apps) with anyone other than your family and/or your tight network of friends.

Above all, don’t dread hooking your teen up. Help them get connected but do it on your terms by managing it and everything will work out just fine! How do you feel about the whole “cell phones for teens debate?” Smart or Dumb?

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