Preparing for college can be an exciting but confusing time. With so much to keep track of, getting ready for your college years should help you hone your multitasking skills. However, it also means you’re more open to falling for fraudsters that target high school and college students. Fraud against students includes everything from student loan scams and identity theft to student housing scams and much more. These bad actors make a nice living by tricking students and their families out of their hard-earned money and personal information. Here are five common tricks that fraudsters are using to target students.
1. Student loans and financial aid scams
When searching for funding for your college education, you need to stay aware of numerous “bad guys” that are looking to exploit a student’s anxiousness about the process. Fraudsters will do their best to appear as a trusted advisor, promising to help you find, apply for, and receive loans and financial assistance to help finance your college career. However, they always require a nominal fee up front before they can assist you. If a group promises you a too-good-to-be-true promise of guaranteed financial aid, tell you “every applicant is eligible for aid,” pressure you to make a quick decision, or require you to pay a fee when applying, walk away.
Also keep in mind that once you’ve left college a few years down the road, you’ll be an attractive target for student loan relief scammers. Companies will claim they can help you pay down your loans faster, reduce the amount you owe by a considerable amount, or get your debt completely forgiven. Be cautious of any of these claims—they’re likely a scam. The FTC warns consumers to never pay an upfront fee, beware of companies that promise fast loan forgiveness, and never share your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID with any company or other parties. There is nothing that any of these companies can do for you that you can’t attend to on your own—remember, it’s called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid! For help with federal student loans, visit the Federal Student Aid website. For private loans, contact the firm that services your loan.
2. Scholarship scams
Here’s another popular scam among the bad guys. Crooks take advantage of the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of legitimate scholarships available—so many, in fact, that there can be confusion as to where you should start. Scholarship scams can come in multiple guises. However, there are two scams that are particularly popular among the fraudsters among us:
- Offering phony scholarships: The scholarship either doesn’t exist or is such a small amount that it’s not worth your trouble. When pulling this con, the bunco artists are looking to part you from your (or your parents’) hard-earned cash, or they’re looking to steal your personal information for marketing or identity theft scams.
- Requiring a fee to match you with a scholarship: Charging money to match you with possible scholarships isn’t illegal, but it’s completely unnecessary. You can find plenty of free scholarship info online at a site like FastWeb or CollegeXpress!.
Related: Scholarship Scams: What to Look For
3. Identity theft
Identity theft is arguably the largest-growing category among scams targeting high school and college students. Across all age groups, identity theft costs victims over $5 billion annually. Considering that the targeted generation grew up as heavy internet users, they make particularly attractive targets for identity thieves. An identity thief uses key bits of personal information, including your Social Security or driver’s license number, to open credit card accounts, buy merchandise, or obtain services in your name. If your identity is stolen, it could take years to fix the mess you’ll find yourself in.
Unfortunately, students are a prime target for this type of crime, as many of them get credit card offers on a regular basis, and many folks throw these out without first shredding them. Plus, many students don’t keep an eye on their credit card and checking account balances. In addition, at least half of all students have had their grades posted by their Social Security number. Be careful when using your personal computer or mobile device for online banking/credit card business and when purchasing items online. Always shred any credit card offers before throwing them away. And never use your Social Security number for identification purposes.
4. Employment scams
Student employment scams are another profitable scheme for bad actors looking to separate you from your money or valuable personal information. Crooks prey on the fact that if you’re a college student, you likely always need more money, so they see you as easy targets. Beware of any jobs that involve collecting for a charitable cause, door-to-door selling, or work-at-home job “offers.” Those who have been lured into such scams are usually not paid or find the amount they do get paid isn’t worth the effort. Scammers will also try to extract personal information from you, such as your Social Security number or bank account number, in an effort to steal your identity. Never supply this information, especially over the phone or by email. Always be skeptical of any job offer that promises a significant financial return for a small amount of work. It may be an old saying, but if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
5. Student housing scams
If you don’t want to stay in the dorms, finding a decent place to live in your price range can be a real pain. Scammers will take advantage of this with “too good to be true” offers that turn out to be unsuitable or overpriced. When searching for student housing, check with your college first. Many schools keep a list of approved landlords and some even inspect the landlords’ background as well as the housing they’re offering before approving them. Watch out for non-existent rental offerings too. A scammer will offer you a house or apartment they don’t own, grabbing your money up front, and then they’re gone by the time you realize they don’t really own the place. Never hand over cash or send an electronic funds transfer without checking things out first.
Be careful out there!
College is a brave new world, and like any new world, it has its pitfalls. However, by paying attention to the information here, you can easily avoid the bad guys and hang onto your money and your personal information.
Student scams are dangerous—and they’re only one factor of adult life. Check out more life advice in our Student Life section.