9 Scams That Prey on College Students

Imagine you’re a scam artist looking for a vulnerable group to prey on.

Older people are often good marks, but they’re dispersed throughout the population. So, finding a group to victimize can prove problematic. The very young are too often protected by parents and may not have enough money to make them worthwhile targets.

But college students? Perfect.

College students are old enough to have money, young enough to be vulnerable and likely to be unsupervised and away from home for the first time. Added bonus: They’re not hard to find because they congregate by the thousands on campuses nationwide.

Following are scams every college student must avoid.

1. Phony calls about your tuition

Someone calls, claiming to be with your school. They warn that your tuition is late, and as a result you’ll be dropped from your classes today. You’re ordered to pay immediately, over the phone.

Solution: If you get a call involving money — from anyone — get off the phone and call the entity that the caller claimed to be with. In the example above, it would be your college.

By calling the entity yourself, you can be sure of who is on the other end of the call. Whereas when someone calls you, they could be “spoofing” — a practice that entails mimicking a phone number so that it appears to you that the call is from a number you recognize.

2. Blackmail

College students have a long history of getting into trouble or compromising situations. But now everyone has a smartphone, and therefore a camera. So, everything can, and will, be photographed and/or captured on video. And, yes, there are people who will pretend to like you but are actually setting you up for blackmail.

Solution: If you’re going to do anything at college you wouldn’t do in front of your parents or a prospective employer, think twice before doing it. If you’re around people you don’t know, and/or you have been drinking, think 10 or 20 times.

3. Fake credit card offers

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 banned banks from doing heavy credit card marketing on campuses. But that doesn’t mean banks and card companies don’t still actively pursue college students.

Credit cards and other accounts that are heavily solicited are the ones most likely to be loaded with bad terms, big fees and high interest rates. Even worse, some credit card solicitations might be disguising an identity thief. Tread carefully.

Solution: If you need a credit card, don’t respond to one that solicits you. Instead, do your own hunt for the best card. Our Solutions Center is a great place to start your credit card search.

4. Password theft

Everyone knows not to use the same simple or easy-to-guess passwords on multiple sites. So, why do we continue to risk our digital lives by using them anyway?

Solution: Use any number of free programs to create, track and change your passwords. You just remember one password, your password manager does the rest. For more, see “2-Minute Money Manager: What’s the Best Way to Protect My Passwords and Stay Safe Online?”

5. Charging outrageous advance fees

If someone wants to charge you a fat fee in exchange for a loan, job, scholarship, debt counseling, completing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or almost anything else, it could be a scam — or, someone charging too much for doing something you can do yourself.

Solution: Whatever the situation, the higher the fee, the more suspicious you should be.

6. Online textbook scams

Crooks know textbooks are a huge college expense. So, some scammers will set up a site, offer great deals, collect your money, then deliver nothing.

Solution: Don’t buy books, or anything else, online without first checking reviews and otherwise validating the site and seller. For example:

  • Are they listed with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)?
  • Do they have a physical address and phone number?
  • How is their website’s security rated by free online cybersecurity tools?
  • Do you know anyone who’s bought from them?

7. Phony apartment offers

Don’t ever agree to rent an apartment without seeing it and meeting the landlord. This scam is simple: Someone offers a great apartment, collects rent and/or a deposit over the phone for a place they don’t own, then disappears.

Solution: Don’t ever give anyone money until you’re standing in your new apartment, key in hand.

8. Check cashing scams

In this scam, a “friend” asks you to cash a check for him. Maybe he even lets you keep a bit of the money for your trouble. You take the check and give him the cash. Shortly after you deposit the check, it bounces. He’s long gone, and you’re out the money, as well as a returned-check fee.

Solution: If you don’t know someone very well, don’t offer to do this.

9. Wi-Fi scams

Few groups are more likely than college students to spend time online via Wi-Fi at places like coffee shops, restaurants and parks. Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi subjects you to all manner of potential foul play.

Solution: Slow down hackers and ID thieves by using password protection and encryption software. Never log on to banking or other sensitive sites when on public Wi-Fi. If possible, avoid logging onto any website that requires you to enter a password while on public Wi-Fi.

Know of other scams happening on campus or have a story to share? Use the comments section below or put it on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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