College students are ideal victims for identity theft, with clean or still non-existent credit histories ripe for exploitation…and often clueless to their risks and value to scammers.
They are more likely to boast birth dates and other personal nuggets on social media that can be pieced together by Facebook-trawling identity thieves. Use public Wi-Fi for risky online shopping, banking, and to access email. Open links that hide computer malware touting free music and games, information-requiring surveys and prizes, 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, 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, explaining why those 18 to 24 take five times longer than other age groups to detect identity theft that’s already occurred – and that discovery is often made when they apply for car loans, mortgages and 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, and/or recruit students via hacked school email accounts, warns the FBI. Gleaning 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, instructed to deposit them and wire-transfer a portion to a provided vendor under the guise of job-necessary software or other equipment. Students lose the money wired, any funds drawn from the bogus deposit, and their bank account could be frozen. Plus their SSN and other valuable info is in enemy hands.
Pay now imposters. 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 non-existent “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 will 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 like FinAid and FastWeb, or directly from individual colleges.
False freebies. 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, expect attached strings, such as having to provide ID-worthy personal details, credit cards and hard-to-cancel memberships.
Credit card cons. Offers are all over campus and the internet, but beware. Plastic pitched heavily to college students often have sky-high interest rates and/or annual fees. Others 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, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.
Photo: Martin Dimitrov/ iStock
Also of Interest
- Scams that target older Americans
- How to beat the grandparent scam
- Donate to help struggling Americans 50+ and older
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more.