Scams and Schemes (6-8)

What is identity theft, and how can you protect yourself from it?

Students learn strategies for guarding against identity theft and scams that try to access their private information online.

Students learn what identity theft is, what kinds of information identity thieves want, and what can be done with that information. Students then analyze phony emails and identify tricks that identity thieves use online. Finally, they create a phishing email that includes the features that they have learned about, and see if classmates can identify the scams.

Students will be able to ...

  • understand what identity theft is and why it is important to guard against it.
  • learn to recognize strategies that scam artists use to access private information.
  • learn how to guard against phishing and identity theft.

Materials and Preparation

  • Paper and markers or colored pencils (or computers with Microsoft Office if you are using the high-tech option in Teach 3).
  • Copy the Spotting Scams Student Handout, one per student.
  • Review the Spotting Scams Student Handout - Teacher Version.

Teaching Plans


Warm-up (5 minutes)

ASK: Do you know someone who has been scammed? What happened?
Students might tell stories of instances in which someone has been convinced to send someone else money or purchase a fake or bad product.

ASK: What is the purpose of a scam? What tricks do people use to carry out a scam?
Students should understand that the ultimate purpose of a scam is to get someone to give the scammer money, or information that can help the scammer steal money, such as a credit card number, ATM code, or password. To accomplish this, scammers tell lies and often pretend to be someone they are not.

ASK: Can people get scammed on the Internet? How?
Allow students to tell stories of friends or relatives who have been scammed online. Then encourage them to revisit what they know about scams, and how they might be used online. Sample responses:

  • Someone can be tricked into buying a bad or fake product online
  • Someone can be lured into sharing information that a scammer can use to steal from them

EXPLAIN to students that they will be learning about a variety of online scams, including which kinds of information scammers look for, and how that information can be used. They will also learn how to protect themselves against online scams.

teach 1

What Is Identity Theft? (10 minutes)

POINT OUT to students that people who scam others online don’t always have to get money from them directly. Instead, they use a variety of strategies to trick people into giving out private information. They then use this information to access their bank and credit card accounts or other personal accounts. They can even “re-create” someone’s identity and produce false documents, such as Social Security cards, credit cards, or drivers’ licenses in someone else’s name.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term identity theft.

ASK: Can you guess what kinds of personal information identity thieves might look for?

REVIEW the list below with students. Emphasize that identity thieves look for any information that might help them pretend to be their victims. Write the list on the board or have students take notes.

  • Full name
  • Date of birth and where you were born
  • Current and previous addresses and phone numbers
  • Driver’s license or passport number
  • Account numbers and the companies where you hold accounts (e.g., Amazon, PayPal, etc.)
  • Passwords
  • Social Security number

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term vulnerable.

EXPLAIN that anyone is vulnerable to an online scam. Although teens might not think they’re at risk, there are a few important reasons why they are vulnerable to identity theft – and why it matters. Cover the following points:

  • Identity thieves look for “clean” Social Security numbers that haven’t yet been used to get credit. They target teens and kids, who often have Social Security numbers that have no credit history yet. Identity thieves might sell or use these numbers, which would allow someone else to get a credit card or loan and build up debt under your name.
  • Being a victim of identity theft can ruin your financial future and your ability to obtain loans and purchase things. For example, it could affect your ability to get a student loan for college or a loan to buy a car.
  • In addition, if you use your parents’ accounts and credit cards online, or fill out forms with your parents’ information, you are sharing information that could potentially put your parents’ identities at risk.
  • It can take months, even years, to recover your identity if it’s stolen. Cleaning up such a mess takes a lot of time and energy, and it can also be expensive.

teach 2

How to Catch a Phish (15 minutes)

ASK: How do you think identity thieves might try to get your information?
Encourage students to share some responses, even if they have not previously encountered identity theft.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term phishing.

EXPLAIN to students that the best way to avoid phishing scams is to be skeptical about any online request for personal information. It’s also good to be skeptical of online messages or posts from friends that seem out of character for them, which is a warning sign that their accounts have been hacked. There are clues that can help students spot phishing, and they will learn some of these in the next part of the lesson by studying one type of phishing scam: a phony email message.

DIVIDE students into pairs.

DISTRIBUTE the Spotting Scams Student Handout, one per student.

READ aloud the instructions found on the Spotting Scams Student Handout – Teacher Version, and share with students the extended explanation of each feature of a phishing email.

INSTRUCT student pairs to complete the handout together. When students are done, have two pairs get together to exchange their handouts and compare their answers.

INVITE volunteers to share their answers with the class. Use the Spotting Scams Student Handout – Teacher Version for guidance.

REMIND students that phishing emails can be very convincing, and some may not contain many of the clues they just learned about. So it’s smart to distrust any email that asks them to provide private information.

teach 3

Protect Yourself from Online Scams (10 minutes)

TELL students that if they ever encounter something online that they believe might be a phishing scam, they should observe the following rules:

  • Avoid opening the message or email in the first place
  • Don’t click on any links or download any attachments. They might contain viruses or spyware.
  • Don’t reply
  • Mark as “junk mail” or “spam” for your email provider, or report it to your social network site.
  • If you are concerned about an account you have with a company, contact its customer service by phone. Make sure you verify the company’s contact information elsewhere online first.

TELL students that they can also protect themselves from Internet scams by learning how identity thieves think. They will create a phishing email, or some other form of online or mobile scam, using what they learned about phishing scams.

Optional: You may wish to show students examples of real phishing emails from Consumer Fraud Reporting before students create their own examples. Some examples of popular scams on Facebook can be found in the online Huffington Post article, “Facebook Scams You Need to Know About."

INSTRUCT students to choose at least four of the eight features of a phishing email listed in their Spotting Scams Student Handout. Have them create a phishing email that demonstrates the four features they choose to highlight.

INVITE students to present their examples to the class. Classmates can try to identify which features tipped them off to the fact that this is a phishing email. Alternatively, students can trade examples with a partner and try to spot each other’s scam.


Wrap-up (5 minutes)

You can use these questions to assess your students’ understanding of the lesson objectives. You may want to ask students to reflect in writing on one of the questions, using a journal or an online blog/wiki.

ASK: What kinds of information do identity thieves look for – and why?
Students should respond with examples of private information, such as full name, address, date of birth, account numbers, and passwords. Identity thieves try to use this information in order to “re-create” someone’s identity for unlawful purposes, mainly to secure loans and buy things.

ASK: How do thieves try to get at your information?
Thieves use phishing to try to get at people’s personal information. Have students discuss some of the features of phishing they learned about.

ASK: What can you do to avoid falling for online scams?
Students should remember to be suspicious of any online communication that asks for private information, or that seems out of character for a friend to have sent or posted. Students should know not to reply to such messages, not to click on any links or attachments, and to report the message as spam or junk to their email provider or social network site. If they are concerned about one of their accounts, they should call the company’s customer service department using a number they found elsewhere online – not within the message they received.

WRITE the following URL and email address below on the board. Tell students that they can go to for help if they, or their parents, find their identities have been stolen. Students can also forward any spam emails they receive to

Have students visit OnGuardOnline. Instruct them to click on “games” and play the “Spam Scam Slam” game. This game is a great way to extend learning about phishing schemes. Afterward, invite students to share one new thing they learned about email scams.

Have students work with a parent or adult family member to come up with a set of security rules for their home computers and/or computers that family members use at school, work, or the library. In addition to the strategies they learned in class, students should research additional security rules at OnGuardOnline. After they have compiled their set of rules, students should take one concrete step toward improving their online security – for example, changing passwords or backing up files. You may wish to have students share their rules with the class, and then invite volunteers to combine them to create an online security poster to display in the classroom.

Alignment with Standards

Common Core & NETS•S
Common Core State Standards Initiative ©2012 & National Educational Technology Standards for Students ©2007, International Society for Technology in Education

Common Core:

  • grade 6: RI.1, RI.4, RI.10, W.4, W.7, W.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.4, SL.6, L.3a, L.6
  • grade 7: RI.1, RI.4, RI.10, W.4, W.7, W.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.4, SL.6, L.3a, L.6
  • grade 8: RI.1, RI.4, RI.10, W.4, W.7, W.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.4, SL.6, L.6

NETS•S: 1a-c, 2a, 2d, 4a, 4d, 5a, 6a