College students may feel invulnerable, but they are actually much more susceptible to scams than they think – possibly due to unfamiliarity with scammer’s tactics. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20.2 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities in 2015, and that number is increasing every year. Many of these students are leaving the nest for the first time, meaning that they’ll have to face new real-world challenges on their own.
One of these challenges is protecting themselves from scams and fraud for the first time. According to new research by Better Business Bureau (BBB), the best way to protect yourself against a scam is by being familiar with it. The problem is that college students might not even realize they’re being targeted. Research shows 80% of millennials think those over 65 are more likely to be scam victims – when in reality, younger people are three times more likely to report losing money to a scam. This high likelihood of falling for a scam is dangerous: as of August 2016, students have reported almost 1,500 scams to BBB Scam Tracker.
Every dollar lost to a scammer could go to tuition, textbooks or healthy meals, so it’s especially important for college students to be aware of the risks – particularly without parents around to act as a shield. BBB advises that college students familiarize themselves with the following five common scams to have the best chance to avoid becoming a victim:
- Employment scams are the most reported scams to BBB Scam Tracker by students, accounting for 15% of reports. The hunt for a job is daunting, so it’s easy for students to get excited when they receive an unsolicited email or job offer touting “no experience necessary”, “work from home”, and a great salary. However, these jobs are almost always too good to be true. Many of these scams involve being sent a check, then transferring money to other accounts. Consider it a red flag if you have to pay for any supplies or upfront costs, will be receiving checks or packages or wiring any money, the job asks for personal banking information, it’s an on-the-spot job offer, you’re interviewed in a hotel lobby or it offers “immediate start”. If a job seems suspicious at all, be smart and search for it online. Look up all potential employers on bbb.org to determine their trustworthiness.
- Online purchase scams and deceptive trial offers are the second-most reported scam by students to BBB Scam Tracker, accounting for almost 11% of reports. Shockingly, as of August 2016, students have reported losing more than $50,000 to this scam. This mistake happens when you see a much-wanted textbook or school supply online for a too-good-to-be-true price. Consumers frequently report ordering items from websites and never receiving them. Make sure to only shop on websites you trust. Look for “https” in the URL and other security signals, and research all businesses at bbb.org before making a purchase. Online shopping is risky, but there are ways you can protect yourself: read BBB’s savvy shopping guide to learn more. Trial offers, although not technically scams, can also trick college students. Often, when signing up for a “trial offer”, hidden in the fine print you’re also signing up for a subscription service which may be difficult to cancel. Make sure to read the fine print, especially if you’re providing financial information, and look up the business at bbb.org before ordering to see if past customers have complaints about difficulties cancelling their trial or being overcharged.
- Rental and roommate scams usually appear on online classified websites, and dozens of students have reported this scam to BBB Scam Tracker as of August 2016. One variation of the rental scam is the roommate scam: if you post an ad for a roommate on Craigslist, beware of “fake roommates” who are out of the country, but can provide the rent upfront in the form of a money order. When you receive it, the amount is higher than the amount requested; you’re asked to cash it and wire back the rest. Unfortunately, the original check will bounce and you’ll be out of the money you transferred – and a roommate! Meet with roommates in person first and never wire money to a stranger. Another form of a housing scam can occur when students search for housing off-campus. Beware of fake rental properties posted online and always visit a potential rental before making any deposits.
- Scholarship scams involve deceptive scholarship-finding services. These businesses “guarantee” grants or scholarships and sell lists to students of potential scholarship or grant opportunities. However, nearly all available financial aid comes from the federal government or individual colleges. There are some legitimate companies that can help you find scholarships, but make sure to look them up on bbb.org first, and beware if they “guarantee” a scholarship or promise to do all the work. Additionally, beware of unsolicited scholarship offers. A variation of the sweepstakes scam asks students to wire money for “fees” or other charges to receive a scholarship. This is a scam – if you didn’t apply for a scholarship, you didn’t win it!
- Student loan scams come in two varieties: deceptive private loan practices, and student loan forgiveness and consolidation scams. If you are considering a private student loan, it’s important to know whom you’re doing business with and the terms of the loan. Many lenders will try to impersonate government agencies to mislead consumers. Don’t pay for help to find money for college, this information is free from the government, and you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Additionally, you should not pay for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) help. The government has many tools and resources to assist you. Don’t let promotions or incentives like gift cards, credit cards, and sweepstake prizes divert you from assessing whether the key terms of the loan are reasonable. Scammers also target those that are graduating with loans; promising debt forgiveness or lowered interest rates. Don’t pay up front, believe claims of a special connection with federal student loan programs or fall for promises of immediate relief or debt cancellation. Remember, the government offers these resources for free, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.