As cyber skills improve with each generation, some young people find themselves in possession of a skill set which is not fully understood by the authority figures in their lives and which they may not have the maturity to manage responsibly themselves. Without proper guidance, a talent for certain aspects of information technology can be used for negative means, rather than being channelled positively, resulting in a misguided venture into the world of cyber crime.

Cybercrime is an attractive choice for some, with potentially large returns.  Young people can be particularly vulnerable targets; keen to make quick money and sometimes confronted with the expense of further education. In addition to this, the world of cybercrime represents a community to belong to and a way to feel powerful.

How are they recruited?

Vulnerable young people can be recruited into criminal networks through social media sites like Reddit and 4chan. They’re told that there are financial benefits and are taught related skills (if they don’t already have them). Often, they act as the “fall guy” for a larger group of criminals. For example, in transactional fraud, the fraudster will offer money in exchange for the victim’s PayPal account. The criminal then uses this account, along with stolen credit card details to perform fraudulent chargebacks. Since the account is registered in the name of the young person they may be held responsible and prosecuted.

Others take a more active role in cybercrime, learning the skills to hack from online tutorials and message boards. They can then exploit the security systems of companies and take confidential information. This information is used to create fake identities or can be sold on.  In some cases, this is done just to prove that it can be, with hackers vying for kudos. The perceived anonymity of infiltrating a business from the comfort of home – as opposed to donning a balaclava and breaking in physically –means that young people may not fully comprehend the severity of their actions and the resulting consequences.

How could these skills be put to good use?

The key to preventing teens and young people from committing this kind of crime lies in giving them the option to use their skills for good and letting them know that this can still be lucrative but without the risk of a prison sentence.

The cyber security industry is well known to be suffering from a skills shortage and the threat of cybercriminals has created a demand for people who understand how hackers think, can test a company’s systems and provide security solutions.  Young people should consider doing an apprenticeship or a degree to transition their skill set to work within an official organisation, creating positive outcomes.

Read more about young people and cyber crime: What is a money mule?

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