Three Back to School Scams Targeting College Students

Children of every age are susceptible to identity theft — they make highly desirable targets with untapped credit histories and no debt, especially kids under eight years old. But as children grow older, begin to establish their own credit, and head off to college, they increasingly fall for scams that can lead to loss of money and their identity. This is a crash-course in adulting that no parent wants to see their child experience.

College students are eager to earn income, reduce education expenses, and save money on their student loans. Such an outlook can make young adults susceptible to fraudsters, and individuals 20-29 years of age are falling for scams at a higher rate than other adult populations.

Consider the following three back to school scams targeting the financial and personal information of college students:

Scholarships and Financial Aid Schemes

With rising costs of college and the ever-growing student debt crisis, students and their parents may experience a welcome reprieve from financial burdens upon notification of an awarded scholarship or grant. To claim the scholarship, the student is asked to complete an application and submit a payment, which the organization may refer to as a “one-time processing fee.” The excitement is short-lived once the student realizes they are not receiving any financial award and may have been scammed out of money instead. Typically, scholarship and grant applications are free of cost, beyond time and postage on behalf of the applicant. Organizations that require a credit card or bank account number to hold a scholarship may be attempting to steal money out of your account or use stolen financial account details to perpetrate additional fraud. Other organizations may collect more in fees than they are offering in financial awards, adding additional doubt to the true purpose behind such scholarship offers.

Roommate and Rental Nightmare

When looking for affordable off-campus housing options, students may be conned by scammers posing as a potential roommate or landlord. A few popular variations of this scam include:

  • You are sent a check from a roommate coming from another country, typically for more than is owed. The roommate asks for the difference to be sent back to them right away, only to have the fraudulent check bounce days later — and after the scammer has made off with your money.
  • You are asked to complete a background check that requires your personal information and Social Security number. The application is fake, serving only to collect your personal information, which is later used to steal your identity.
  • You find an apartment online for a great price, but the landlord is requesting an application and payment upfront before you can see the unit. This combination may result in loss of money and identity fraud.

Online Identity Scams

By the time young adults reach college, they are likely well-versed in online activities and understand that the Internet is a dangerous place. Cyberthieves are becoming more sophisticated as well. With the click of a mouse or the tap of a phone screen, students are falling for phishing links, applying for non-existent jobs, or falling for fake sales of books and school supplies — all scams aiming to collect their personal information and steal their identities. With the rise of educational technology, students are creating a multitude of accounts for school, usually with the same password. If that password has been a part of a previous data breach, hackers can easily access online accounts and all of the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) within them using credential stuffing. Remind students to update passwords frequently, make them difficult to guess, and invest in a password manager.

As young adults head out to college and begin their careers, the last thing they need is the looming threat of identity theft ruining their future. Now is the time to educate your college-bound students on scams to be aware of and how to not fall victim to identity crimes.

Tips to Protect Your College Student’s Identity

  1. Report the scam right away! By reporting your scam to the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission, you may help other students from becoming a victim and increase your chances of restitution once the criminals are caught.
  2. Keep important documents stored securely. If you live in a shared space during the school year, make sure your sensitive documents are kept out of sight and locked away in a safe location.
  3. Check your credit score often. Any alarming changes to your credit score are a sign someone is using your credit maliciously. You can freeze your credit at the three bureaus for no charge.
  4. Do thorough research on unsolicited offers before sharing any personal or financial information. Loans are often originated through the federal government and validated through the school’s financial aid office, which are both reliable resources for information.
  5. Stay in the know regarding the latest scams:

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of EZShield Inc. alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or entity, including specifically any person or entity affiliated with the distribution or display of this content.

John is General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer of Sontiq, the parent company of the EZShield and IdentityForce brands. He is a Certified Compliance...
Read more about John Burcham.

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