Why and How College Students Are Scammed

College students are ideal victims for identity theft, with clean or nonexistent credit histories ripe for exploitation … and often clueless about their risks and value to scammers.

They are more likely to post birth dates and other personal nuggets on social media that can be pieced together by Facebook-trawling identity thieves, and to use public Wi-Fi for risky online shopping, banking and email. They’re also more apt to open links touting free music and games (that actually hide computer malware), to answer surveys that require personal information, and to respond to prize offers or intriguing text messages and emails.

If they have credit, it’s usually free of problems, being jointly held or otherwise supervised by a parent. If they don’t, that’s even better for scammers to use their identities to open fraudulent accounts for credit cards, loans and utility service. In between classes and keggers, few college students check their credit reports, which explains why those 18 to 24 take five times as long as people in other age groups to detect identity theft that’s already occurred. And that discovery is often made only when they apply for car loans, mortgages or post-degree jobs.

How are college students scammed? The top ruses targeting your children and grandchildren include:

Fake employment. In the latest fast-growing scheme, scammers place advertisements for phony job opportunities (often administrative work) on college employment websites, or they recruit students via hacked school email accounts, warns the FBI. After handing over Social Security numbers, bank account details and other sensitive information, “hired” students (often interviewed in nearby hotel lobbies or other non-workplace locations) are paid with counterfeit checks. Then they’re  instructed to deposit the check and wire-transfer a portion to a provided vendor, supposedly for software or other equipment necessary for the job. Students lose the money wired and any funds drawn from the bogus deposit; plus, their bank accounts could be frozen. Meanwhile, their SSN and other valuable info is in enemy hands.

Pay-now impostors. Using caller ID spoofing to make calls appear to be from the IRS or school financial aid office, scammers phone those with student loans threatening dire consequences — including arrest or non-graduation — unless they immediately pay a nonexistent “federal student tax” or other bogus fees. Again, scammers make a quick buck and glean personal details for possible identity theft.

Scholarship and grant scams. These services claim to have lists of “secret” or “guaranteed” awards for current and future college students, or say they’ll provide no-fail help with paperwork. They demand upfront fees and then don’t deliver. The better route: Get reputable scholarship info for free at websites such as FinAid and Fastweb, or directly from individual colleges.

False freebies. These range from must-have gizmos touted in surveys and bogus social media giveaways to free-trial offers of acne creams, gym memberships and you name it. But expect attached strings, such as having to provide ID-worthy personal details and credit card information; you may encounter hard-to-cancel memberships.

Credit card cons. Offers are all over campus and the internet, but beware. Plastic pitched heavily to college students often has sky-high interest rates or annual fees. Other offers are from identity thieves who merely pose as credit card companies. When shopping for credit and prepaid debit cards, stick with recognized and reputable names; run from anything with an APR near or above 25 percent or an annual fee of $30 or more.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud. Keep tabs on scams and law enforcement alerts in your area with our Scam-Tracking Map.

Photo: Martin Dimitrov/iStock

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