College Scams - How to Identify and Avoid Fraud Targeting Students

According to a 2012 Javelin Fraud Survey, someone becomes a victim of a fraud incident every 2.7 seconds. And unfortunately, college students are often targets of these incidents, with many becoming at risk for financial losses and identity theft. Because many college students are out on their own for the first time and lack experience, they can make for easy targets for scammers. But even the savviest of college students can fall victim to a well-disguised sham.

College Scams - How to Identify and Avoid Fraud Targeting Students

Here we’ve identified seven types of scams that specifically target college students and what you can do to protect yourself.

Scholarship Scams

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,, 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.

Employment Scams

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 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.

Check the comment section below for additional information, share what you know, or ask a question about this article by leaving a comment below. And, to quickly find answers to your questions, use our search Search engine.

Note: Some of the information in samples on this website may have been impersonated or spoofed.

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Online Threat Alerts Security Tips

Pay the safest way

Credit cards are the safest way to pay for online purchases because you can dispute the charges if you never get the goods or services or if the offer was misrepresented. Federal law limits your liability to $50 if someone makes unauthorized charges to your account, and most credit card issuers will remove them completely if you report the problem promptly.

Guard your personal information

In any transaction you conduct, make sure to check with your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if the seller, charity, company, or organization is credible. Be especially wary if the entity is unfamiliar to you. Always call the number found on a website’s contact information to make sure the number legitimately belongs to the entity you are dealing with.

Be careful of the information you share

Never give out your codes, passwords or personal information, unless you are sure of who you're dealing with

Know who you’re dealing with

Crooks pretending to be from companies you do business with may call or send an email, claiming they need to verify your personal information. Don’t provide your credit card or bank account number unless you are actually paying for something and know who you are sending payment to. Your social security number should not be necessary unless you are applying for credit. Be especially suspicious if someone claiming to be from a company with whom you have an account asks for information that the business already has.

Check your accounts

Regularly check your account transactions and report any suspicious or unauthorised transactions.

Don’t believe promises of easy money

If someone claims that you can earn money with little or no work, get a loan or credit card even if you have bad credit, or make money on an investment with little or no risk, it’s probably a scam. Oftentimes, offers that seem too good to be true, actually are too good to be true.

Do not open email from people you don’t know

If you are unsure whether an email you received is legitimate, try contacting the sender directly via other means. Do not click on any links in an email unless you are sure it is safe.

Think before you click

If an email or text message looks suspicious, don’t open any attachments or click on the links.

Verify urgent requests or unsolicited emails, messages or phone calls before you respond

If you receive a message or a phone call asking for immediate action and don't know the sender, it could be a phishing message.

Be careful with links and new website addresses

Malicious website addresses may appear almost identical to legitimate sites. Scammers often use a slight variation in spelling or logo to lure you. Malicious links can also come from friends whose email has unknowingly been compromised, so be careful.

Secure your personal information

Before providing any personal information, such as your date of birth, Social Security number, account numbers, and passwords, be sure the website is secure.

Stay informed on the latest cyber threats

Keep yourself up to date on current scams by visiting this website daily.

Use Strong Passwords

Strong passwords are critical to online security.

Keep your software up to date and maintain preventative software programs

Keep all of your software applications up to date on your computers and mobile devices. Install software that provides antivirus, firewall, and email filter services.

Update the operating systems on your electronic devices

Make sure your operating systems (OSs) and applications are up to date on all of your electronic devices. Older and unpatched versions of OSs and software are the target of many hacks. Read the CISA security tip on Understanding Patches and Software Updates for more information.

What if You Got Scammed?

Stop Contact With The Scammer

Hang up the phone. Do not reply to emails, messages, or letters that the scammer sends. Do not make any more payments to the scammer. Beware of additional scammers who may contact you claiming they can help you get your lost money back.

Secure Your Finances

  • Report potentially compromised bank account, credit or debit card information to your financial institution(s) immediately. They may be able to cancel or reverse fraudulent transactions.
  • Notify the three major credit bureaus. They can add a fraud alert to warn potential credit grantors that you may be a victim of identity theft. You may also want to consider placing a free security freeze on your credit report. Doing so prevents lenders and others from accessing your credit report entirely, which will prevent them from extending credit:

Check Your Computer

If your computer was accessed or otherwise affected by a scam, check to make sure that your anti-virus is up-to-date and running and that your system is free of malware and keylogging software. You may also need to seek the help of a computer repair company. Consider utilizing the Better Business Bureau’s website to find a reputable company.

Change Your Account Passwords

Update your bank, credit card, social media, and email account passwords to try to limit further unauthorized access. Make sure to choose strong passwords when changing account passwords.

Report The Scam

Reporting helps protect others. While agencies can’t always track down perpetrators of crimes against scammers, they can utilize the information gathered to record patterns of abuse which may lead to action being taken against a company or industry.

Report your issue to the following agencies based on the nature of the scam:

  • Local Law Enforcement: Consumers are encouraged to report scams to their local police department or sheriff’s office, especially if you lost money or property or had your identity compromised.
  • Federal Trade Commission: Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or use the Online Complaint Assistant to report various types of fraud, including counterfeit checks, lottery or sweepstakes scams, and more.
  • If someone is using your personal information, like your Social Security, credit card, or bank account number, to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund, report it at This federal government site will also help you create your Identity Theft Report and a personal recovery plan based on your situation. Questions can be directed to 877-ID THEFT.

How To Recognize a Phishing Scam

Scammers use email or text messages to try to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. If they get that information, they could get access to your email, bank, or other accounts. Or they could sell your information to other scammers. Scammers launch thousands of phishing attacks like these every day — and they’re often successful.

Scammers often update their tactics to keep up with the latest news or trends, but here are some common tactics used in phishing emails or text messages:

Phishing emails and text messages often tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. You might get an unexpected email or text message that looks like it’s from a company you know or trust, like a bank or a credit card or utility company. Or maybe it’s from an online payment website or app. The message could be from a scammer, who might

  • say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts — they haven’t
  • claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information — there isn’t
  • say you need to confirm some personal or financial information — you don’t
  • include an invoice you don’t recognize — it’s fake
  • want you to click on a link to make a payment — but the link has malware
  • say you’re eligible to register for a government refund — it’s a scam
  • offer a coupon for free stuff — it’s not real

About Online Threat Alerts (OTA)

Online Threat Alerts or OTA is an anti-cybercrime community that started in 2012. OTA alerts the public to cyber crimes and other web threats.

By alerting the public, we have prevented a lot of online users from getting scammed or becoming victims of cybercrimes.

With the ever-increasing number of people going online, it important to have a community like OTA that continuously alerts or protects those same people from cyber-criminals, scammers and hackers, who are every day finding new ways of carrying out their malicious activities.

Online users can help by reporting suspicious or malicious messages or websites to OTA. And, if they want to determine if a message or website is a threat or scam, they can use OTA's search engine to search for the website or parts of the message for information.

Help maintain Online Threat Alerts (OTA).

College Scams - How to Identify and Avoid Fraud Targeting Students