Back to Campus: 9 Scams for College Students to be Aware of as They Head Back to School

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According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), scammers target young people in several ways, and many of these tactics take advantage of the activities that  go hand-in-hand with students heading off to college—such as looking for an apartment, signing up for utilities, or getting a new credit card. So before you pack up your college freshman—or even your senior—make sure they are wise to these common college scams.

1) Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams

Here’s one scenario: a student receives a call that they’ve been awarded a scholarship, which they may or may not remember having applied for. In order to deposit the funds, all the caller needs is the student’s bank account information.

The request may seem harmless enough—after all, someone is trying to give the student money, But beware, this is a common scam to attempt to get a victim’s personal or financial details.

According to the National Credit Union Administration, scholarship and financial aid scams may involve:

  • Scammers calling to award a non-existent scholarship
  • Fraudulent scholarship websites that are set up to collect email addresses or other details for future scams
  • Financial aid services that charge well over $1,000 for actions that the student or his or her family can complete for free

Better Protect Yourself By:
Visiting the Federal Student Aid website provided by the Office of the US Department of Education for free resources to help find funds for college.

2) Employment Scams

According to the ITRC, scammers may try to steal identities from unsuspecting students through enticing job offers. These criminals may prey upon a student’s money, personal information, or even physical safety.

Some red flags for job scams are: offers that appear too good to be true, requests for upfront payment or personal information, a suspicious-looking email address or company website, or being asked to interview in an unusual location.

Better Protect Yourself By:
Being skeptical. Remember, a legitimate job opportunity won’t likely pay you a lot of money for very little work and won’t typically require an upfront fee or identifying information in order to apply.

3) Imposter Scams

 An imposter scam is when a scammer pretends to be someone else in order to win over the victim’s trust and convince them to send money. In the case of college students, a student may receive a call from someone claiming to be a school official warning of a late tuition payment or other money owed. The victim is ordered to pay immediately over the phone, or suffer dire consequences, such as being dropped from all classes.

To make the scam seem even more realistic, the scammer may ‘spoof’ the incoming call, making it look like the call originated from a number the victim recognizes.

Better Protect Yourself By:
Hanging up the phone immediately if you get a call involving money. Instead, contact the entity that the caller claimed to be with, for example, your school’s Office of Student and Financial Services.

4) Student Loan Debt Relief Scams

Unfortunately, not all offers to help to pay down student loans are altruistic. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that they shut down a scam that bilked student loan borrowers out of $23M.

According to reports, the scammers lured their victims using false promises to pay down student loan debt and lower monthly payments. All the while, the thieves were diverting payments to their own accounts, and in some cases, they had even changed the borrower’s contact information on US Department of Education websites in order to limit the victim’s contact with the legitimate federal loan servicers. Some borrowers didn’t realize for years that their student loans weren’t being repaid.

Better Protect Yourself By:
Visiting the US Department of Education website at StudentAid.gov/repay if you have federal student loans. If you have private loans, it is advised to speak directly with your loan servicer. For more information, visit ftc.gov/StudentLoans.

5) Nonexistent Apartments, Books, and Moving Services 

Crooks know what college students may be searching for—a new apartment, textbooks, or moving services. They also know that they may be able to lure students with a great deal, ask for payment upfront, and then simply never deliver the promised goods or services.

Better Protect Yourself By:
Avoiding making online purchases without first validating the website and checking online reviews. For example, check to see if the company is listed with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), ensure they have a real physical address and phone number, and, when possible, get a referral from family or friends.

Never agree to rent an apartment without seeing it both inside and outside and don’t make a deposit or pay rent over the phone. In terms of choosing a moving company, only do business with reputable companies in your area. If it’s a long-distance move, try to find an escrow service that will hold your payment until the job is complete.

6) Misleading Credit Card Offers

College students are particularly susceptible to credit card scams, which could range from a legitimate credit card that has unfavorable terms, fees, or interest rates to the worst cases of a credit card solicitation that is actually a veiled attempt at identity theft.

Better Protect Yourself By:
Doing your own research if you need a credit card, instead of responding to a solicitation.

7) Public Wi-Fi Scams

College students can log a lot of time on public Wi-Fi networks. Unfortunately, using public Wi-Fi can also make students susceptible to fraud.

Hackers may exploit security flaws on a public Wi-Fi router and scan data that passes back and forth between the router and the individual’s computer, tablet, or phone. If, for example, a user logs on to a banking website or shops online while on a public network, personal or financial information entered can be at risk of exposure.

Better Protect Yourself By:
Avoid logging on to banking or other sensitive sites while on public Wi-Fi networks and, if possible, don’t visit any website on public Wi-Fi that requires you to enter your password.

8) Social Media Scams

Young people are notorious social media junkies. Seventy-eight percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use Snapchat, 71 percent use Instagram, and close to half use Twitter.

Unfortunately, scammers may be lurking on social media platforms, even on pages that seem to belong to legitimate organizations. One such tactic involves scammers setting up fake pages for universities and reaching out to college students with the goal of collecting email addresses, which could result in an inbox full of spam or even identity theft.

Better Protect Yourself By:
Only adding friends you actually know, limiting the amount of information you post online, and being cautious of invitations to “like” pages.

9) Blackmail 

Do an internet search for college students who have been the victim of online blackmail in one way or another, and you will probably be disturbed by the results.

All the world’s a stage these days, and with smartphones being so prolific someone could be captured on video or photographed without their knowledge or consent. In some cases, those images may fall into the wrong hands.

Better Protect Yourself By:
Thinking twice before you do anything at college that you wouldn’t want your family members or employer to see. After all, they may end up seeing it anyway.

Where to Go For Help

The FTC provides a website on how consumers can report fraud, identity theft, or an unfair business practice.

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