Here we’ve identified seven types of scams that specifically target college students and what you can do to protect yourself.
Scholarship scams happen all too frequently to unsuspecting college students. There are several “services” that imitate grant-giving organizations or scholarship matching sites, offering to find the perfect scholarship for you. But instead of connecting you to legitimate financial aid services, these scam operations take your personal information, such as an email address, and sell your information for profit. In some cases, these organizations even obtain banking information, causing victims to lose out on thousands of dollars.
How do you avoid scams like this? To start, only use scholarship services that are well-known. Sites like Fastweb, Scholarships.com, ScholarshipOwl.com are well-known legitimate scholarship sites. Visit your high school or college counselor for a full list of trusted resources.
Additionally, here are a few warning signs that a scholarship may not be legitimate:
- It asks for an application fee
- There is no contact information for the scholarship organization
- It requests personal financial information
- It asks for search fees
- It has claims of “doing everything for you”
Student Loan Scams
Scammers use loans as an opportunity to target college students, as so many of us have some sort of student debt. According to the Better Business Bureau, student loan scams come in two varieties: deceptive private loan practices and student loan forgiveness or consolidation scams.
Deceptive private loans target students who are shopping around for private loans. These organizations make claims for loan deals and interest rates that “you won’t find anywhere else”. Here are some common ways you can spot a deceptive loan:
- They provide incentives such as sweepstakes or gift cards to draw your attention away from the loan terms
- They are asking for high fees upfront
- They offer to pay your loan through a third party
When seeking a private loan, be sure to shop around and compare your options. If something stands out amongst the other options as too good to be true, it probably is. Plan to research the loan provider and be sure to understand all the terms of the loan.
Student loan forgiveness and consolidation scams target students and recent grads who already have outstanding debt. These scams often start out by the student receiving a letter, email, or phone call from an “official” agency offering to help lighten their debt for a small fee. But instead of helping you find a way to pay off your loans, these scammers take your fee and disappear, leaving you out, even more, money than you were before.
Always be wary of providing personal information or money to any loan provider or loan forgiveness service.
College students need extra income, and some job opportunities are hard to resist. Deceitful job descriptions promise a decent wage for hardly any working hours, promising you extra cash while you continue to attend school. Even though there are several honest companies offering legitimate job opportunities for college students, be aware of offers that seem too good to be true.
These scams start with ads and listings for fraudulent job opportunities that appear to be real opportunities. Once you accept the job offer, the “company” begins sending checks in the mail and instructs you to deposit them into your own personal account. It then instructs you to take a portion of that money back out of your account and send it via a wire transfer or gift card. But since the checks sent in the first place were counterfeit, you’ve just sent out your own personal money or perhaps money you never had in the first place. Now you have nothing except bank fees for overdrafts or worse.
Be suspicious of transactions involving wire transfers or gift cards. Never accept a job that requires you to deposit payments in any form, especially as a check or credit card. Always be sure to research any company you’re considering entering an employment agreement with through LinkedIn and their own website. To be safe, you should also check the Better Business Bureau for complaints and scam notices.
Rental & Roommate Scams
If you’re searching for an off-campus apartment or a roommate, be aware of rental and roommate scams.
Beware of fake roommates posting ads on sites like Craigslist. These “roomies” will be unavailable to meet in person, even saying they are temporarily out of the country. But they’ll be willing to pay you first month’s rent upfront immediately. But the check they send will be higher than the agreed-upon amount, and they’ll ask you to wire the difference back to them. Chances are their check will be counterfeit, and you’ll be sending your own money over to them. Remember to always meet with a potential roommate in person. Never wire a stranger money.
Rental scams specifically target students searching for off-campus housing, often for the first time. They’ll post an ad providing a description of the home with an upfront deposit amount. The description will sound like a great place for a great price and might even include pictures of your soon-to-be home. But once you pay the deposit, you’ll sometimes find the property to be completely different than the description or pictures lead you to believe or it may not even exist at all. Always be sure to visit any potential rentals before making a deposit.
Identity Theft Scams
Identity theft scams come in many different forms. Seemingly legitimate online programs can turn out to be malware that steals your personal information, such as your birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license, or credit card account. College students are at a greater risk for falling for identity theft schemes, as they are highly active online and are generally less experienced.
Identity theft includes any use of your personal data without your permission or knowledge and often for the financial gain of another person. For example, if your roommate uses your credit card to purchase items at a store or online without your knowledge, that’s identity theft. Or let’s say you receive information for a pre-approved credit card in the mail and throw it away without tearing it up.Then someone finds it in the trash, activates the card without your knowledge, and is able to use the card under your name for their own use. That’s also identity theft.
Regardless of the situation, identity theft is very serious as it can end up affecting your credit rating, criminal record, and even your future job opportunities.
Here are a few other common ways students can fall victim to identity theft:
- Leaving your wallet in an easy-to-steal place or leaving your purse unattended
- Sharing your information with friends of acquaintances who aren’t trustworthy
- Opening emails from someone you don’t know
- Not protecting your pin number when you enter it in at an ATM or at a register
Avoid identity theft by being aware of your surroundings, not sharing your personal information, and properly discarding of any documents that contain banking or other personal information on them. It’s also wise to regularly check your bank statements so you can catch anything early on.
Online Purchase Scams and Deceptive Trial Offers
College students are generally comfortable shopping online. And while this practice is convenient, it also leaves them at risk for online purchase scams.
In a typical online shopping scam, you’ll purchase an item and then never receive it. Even worse? These fake merchants can steal your credit card information as you enter it in during checkout and use it to make purchases for themselves. The rule of thumb is to only enter in your credit card information into sites that you know are trustworthy and legitimate. If you’re unsure, do some research online and take a look for other buyer reviews and any scam warnings.
Trial offers are another common way for college students to be dubbed online. Most will seem like great deals upfront and easy to sign up for. But it’s that fine print that you’ve gotta watch out for! Turns out that instead of a trial offer, you’ve just signed up for a subscription service. And often, these subscriptions are extremely difficult to cancel. So do yourself a favor and take time to read the fine print.
Social Media Scams
Social media use has exploded in today’s society. But along with the convenience of being able to stay in touch with those important to us no matter where they are in the world comes a dark side.
College students should watch out for fake university pages attempting to get their email addresses. Often times, these pages will sell your email address to the highest bidder for a quick payout. After your information has been sold, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of a whole lotta spam emails.
Also, be aware of fake social profiles. Avoid social media scams by only adding friends that you actually know. Limit all information posted publicly on sites, as you never know who is looking at your posts. Do not blindly accept invitations to “like” pages you know nothing about.
And whatever you do, never post the following information publicly:
- legal name
- full address
- phone number
- bank account number
- credit card number
- social security number
Unfortunately, there are endless ways for college students to become victims of a scam. The best thing you can do is to be very aware of your own surroundings and maintain control over your personal information.
If you spot what you believe to be a scam, report it to ftc.gov/complaint. Your report allows the FTC to become aware of the possible scam, investigate it, and stop it before it reaches more victims.
If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a scam, immediately contact your local law enforcement. You should also reach out to your bank, any credit institutions you’re involved with, the social security administration, and your own family members.
This story was written by StudySoup (Catherine Burns), a peer-to-peer learning marketplace that connects top students in the class with those who need a little help. Top students can upload their notes and study guides to the StudySoup Marketplace, providing their peers with helpful materials while also earning some extra cash.