9 Scams Every College Student and Parent Must Avoid

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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

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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.
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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
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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
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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
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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

Apartment for rent sign in front of an apartment building
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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

Free Wi-Fi
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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
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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
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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

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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.

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