ARKANSAS, USA — As online giants YouTube and its parent Google make changes to the way it sends videos to kids, emails from scammers are lurking among the stream of messages coming to account holders, raising the already growing threat of "phishing."

"It's very serious," said supervising special agent Ryan Kennedy, the chief division counsel for the FBI in Little Rock. "As both an agent and as a parent, I'm always very concerned about the apps and programs that my children are using."

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That informs the work his agency is doing these days, as apps like YouTube come to grips with how children use their services.

"What we are seeing is that cyber crimes and cyber-related issues are infiltrating all aspects of our investigations," he said.

Phishing is when an email looks very much like a message from a legitimate sender, like a bank or other account service. It usually includes a link that directs the person to a scam website that gains access to a user's confidential information, like passwords or account numbers.

Law enforcement officials are growing more and more concerned at the skill with which scammers are able to make convincing fake come-ons.

"It is getting more difficult to detect that as a layperson, but it is still possible by taking some basic fundamental steps," Kennedy said.

Do this if you or your child gets a questionable message:

  • Go directly to the site of the company to look for any alerts or announcements. Do this before clicking on any links or filling in any forms.
  • Carefully check the sender's email address. Often, a scam email will have a letter out of place or missing so that it looks like "youtube.com" but really says "yuotube.com."
  • Figure out what the email is asking you or your kids to do. Reputable companies will never ask for information through an email. If it's asking for account numbers or identifying items, it's almost surely a scam.

Kennedy urges parents to catch it early. A message that may ask a child for a little naughtiness now could lead to bigger, more dangerous requests later.

The special agent also speaks from personal experience when he says not to feel bad if you or your loved one does get hooked. It happens to the best of us and can be fixed.

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"You start by immediately contacting local law enforcement, federal law enforcement. In the case of my family member, we immediately contacted her financial institution and we were able to stave off very much damage," he said.

The FBI has a program called Safe Online Surfing with more advice for kids and adults navigating the Internet. 

For information on how YouTube is changing it's children's content, there is this link and for advice from Google on how to keep your account safe, they have advice here.