9 Scams Every College Student and Parent Must Avoid

Students walk under outdoor archway.
4 PM production / Shutterstock.com

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

Older people are often good marks, but they’re generally dispersed throughout the population. 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 away from home for the first time. Added bonus: They’re easy to find because they congregate by the thousands on campuses nationwide.

So, take a few minutes to study the following common college scams.

1. Phony online booksellers

adistock / Shutterstock.com

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?

2. Fake credit cards — and real ones

Credit cards close up.
Ti_ser / Shutterstock.com

A federal law known as the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 clamped down on credit card marketing to college students, but that doesn’t mean banks and card companies don’t still actively pursue this large and vulnerable market.

Credit cards and other financial products that are heavily solicited may be loaded with bad terms, big fees or high interest rates. Even worse, some credit card solicitations might be veiled attempts at identity theft. Tread carefully.

Solution: If you need a credit card, don’t respond to a company that solicits you. Instead, do your own hunt for the best card. Or use a free online resource — such as Money Talks News’ credit card tool — that will show you various options based on your preferences.

Compare fees, terms and conditions, then make an informed decision.

3. Tuition scams

Woman looking stressed, looking at cellphone
pathdoc / Shutterstock.com

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.

This scam is a variation of the old unpaid bill scam, in which someone gets a call warning of dire consequences if they don’t immediately send money. In another common iteration, it’s a fake IRS agent warning of jail time.

4. Advance fees

spending cash
hugo_34 / Shutterstock.com

If someone wants to charge you a fat fee in exchange for a loan, job, scholarship, debt counseling, completing a FAFSA or almost anything else, it’s likely either a scam or someone overcharging for something you can do yourself.

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

When it comes to scholarship and financial aid scams, the Federal Trade Commission warns that the following lines are red flags:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.”
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.”
  • “I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.”
  • “We’ll do all the work. You just pay a processing fee.”
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.”
  • “You’ve been selected” by a “national foundation” to receive a scholarship — or “You’re a finalist” in a contest you never entered.”

5. Blackmail

Woman with smartphone
Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock.com

College students are legendary when it comes to finding ways to get into trouble or compromising positions. But now everyone has a smartphone, and therefore a camera. So, everything can be photographed 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 family or an employer, think twice. If you’re around people you don’t know or you have been drinking, think 10 or 20 times.

6. Nonexistent apartments

dc_slim / Shutterstock.com

This scam is simple: Someone offers a great apartment, collects rent or a deposit over the phone for a place they don’t own, and then disappears.

Solution: Never agree to rent an apartment without seeing it, both inside and out, and meeting the landlord. And never pay rent or a deposit over the phone.

7. Public Wi-Fi

vchal / Shutterstock.com

Few groups are more likely than college students to spend time online via Wi-Fi at places like coffee shops. Unfortunately, using public Wi-Fi, whether on a phone or computer, makes you susceptible to various types of potential foul play because others can access information like passwords that you enter while on a public network.

Solution: At the least, 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.

8. Weak passwords

Creating a strong password
ra2studio / Shutterstock.com

Everyone knows not to use the same simple or easy-to-guess passwords or to use the same password on multiple sites — or at least everyone should know. So, why do we continue to risk our digital lives by doing this anyway?

Solution: Use a password manager to create strong passwords, keep track of them and update them. That way you just have to remember one password, and your password manager does the rest.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains the details in “Ask Stacy: What’s the Best Way to Protect My Passwords and Stay Safe Online?

9. Check cashing scams

Checking account
The Adaptive / Shutterstock.com

In this scam, a “friend” asks you to cash a check for them. Maybe they even tell you to keep a little bit of the money for your trouble. You take their check and give them cash. Shortly after you deposit the check, however, it bounces. They’re long gone, and you’re out the money — and hit with a returned check fee.

Solution: If you don’t know someone very well, think of cashing a check for them as equivalent to giving them money. That is likely what it will turn out to be.

Bottom line: 3 golden rules of scam avoidance

scam
Lemau Studio / Shutterstock.com

While many scams, both on campus and off, have donned high-tech clothing in recent years, most can be avoided by remembering three old-fashioned rules:

  • If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t part with personal information unless you’re sure where it’s going.
  • The more someone needs money upfront, the greater the likelihood you’re about to be robbed.

For more tips, check out “10 Golden Rules to Avoid Getting Scammed.”

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.

Read Next
Stop Buying These 19 Things Online
Stop Buying These 19 Things Online

The internet has changed how we shop. But for some things, you’re still better off buying the old-fashioned way.

10 Ways Retailers Trick You Into Spending More
10 Ways Retailers Trick You Into Spending More

Think you’re a savvy shopper? Find out how retailers persuade you to dig more deeply into your wallet.

20 Generic Brands That Amazon Created
20 Generic Brands That Amazon Created

Amazon’s growing collection of private brands offers everything from toilet paper and coffee to motor oil and clothing.

This Is the Best Age to Buy Long-Term Care Insurance
This Is the Best Age to Buy Long-Term Care Insurance

If you wait too long to apply for coverage, you could be denied. So, when’s the sweet spot to apply?

How to Avoid Being Surprised by 7 Nasty Expenses
How to Avoid Being Surprised by 7 Nasty Expenses

Major expenses are difficult to predict, but there are ways to make sure you’re protected.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?
Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?

Understanding survivors benefits rules is the key to getting the most from your benefit.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

Seniors With COVID-19 May Display This Unusual Symptom
Seniors With COVID-19 May Display This Unusual Symptom

Largely asymptomatic seniors may experience a symptom not commonly associated with the coronavirus.

These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation
These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation

Two types of vehicles are especially likely to see steep plunges in value.

18 Early Black Friday Deals on Amazon Today
18 Early Black Friday Deals on Amazon Today

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

Never Buy These 10 Things With Your Credit Card
Never Buy These 10 Things With Your Credit Card

Credit cards offer many conveniences and protections, but sometimes it’s simply smarter to keep the plastic tucked away.

13 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s
10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s

From snacks to sweets to side dishes, stock your cart with these time-tested favorites on your next TJ’s run.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

There are easy high-paying majors available in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required. We’re here to help you find easy degrees that pay well.

8 Surprising Household Items You Can Sell for Fast Cash
8 Surprising Household Items You Can Sell for Fast Cash

Sometimes, the humblest household items are worth the most money.

Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early
Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early

Like the idea of financial independence? Part of the FIRE equation is cutting costs.

5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021
5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021

These adjustments will affect both workers and retirees in the new year.

15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It
15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It

Discover some must-have products on Amazon that you didn’t even know you were missing.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing emergency food supply. Is your pantry well-prepared for emergencies? Knowing what to stock up on for emergencies can be a difficult task and we’re here to help.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

8 Things You Should Buy at Restaurant Supply Stores
8 Things You Should Buy at Restaurant Supply Stores

You don’t have to be a chef or a restaurant owner to shop here.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.