Better Business Bureau says scams targeting college students are on the rise

Updated: Aug. 29, 2019 at 1:31 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - College can be an exciting time for many, but while many students are planning out their college careers, scammers see this time of year as an opportunity to sway students who are looking for better ways to manage their money.

In many cases, college students are on their own for the first time and in charge of their own money and may be trusting people too much.

BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust reports consumers ages 18 to 24 are three times more likely than seniors to fall victim to a scam.

According to 2018’s BBB’s ScamTracker Risk Report, 41.6% of students reported a loss when exposed to a scam as compared to 28.3% of non-students.

“Scammers have figured out a couple things. College kids these days are so busy with after-school curriculum activities, they’re so tied into their phones that they really don’t get into the meat of things. So, scammers have figured out that they’re a great audience to target," said Renee Wikstrom, communications director for the Better Business Bureau of Coastal Carolina.

Employment scams topped the list of scams in 2018 for people ages 18 to 25. Many college students are looking for part-time jobs to off-set costs, and scammers can use fake job listings to steal personal information. Look out for those easy “work from homes” jobs. Some red flags to spot is if the company asks for any upfront application fees, if they ask for your social security number right away or getting hired without having an interview. Some students may even get a fake check and cost themselves hundreds, if not thousands of dollars if they deposit it and send money back.

For scammers, rising student loan debt is also an opportunity. Students may receive fake calls or emails with offers to lower the interest rate. Some of the scams tell students they have money coming to them from a government grant. Make sure you contact your school's financial aid office to ensure it's a legitimate offer. When in doubt, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“You want to be careful because most of these fake scholarships, they’re going to ask you for a fee to apply, they’re going to get your personal information. For the college debt repayment, that’s a whole different thing because they’re getting your money, they’re getting your information, they’re leading you down a rosy path probably for a few months, you may be making payments. Your real student loan may be going into fault because you’re not paying on it, you’re paying a scammer,” said Wikstrom.

Many students opt for off-campus housing to save some extra cash. The BBB says you should always be wary of online listings. Scammers make up listings or hi-jack real listings, so make sure you see the apartment or house first in person. If you think you’ve found a place to stay and the landlord asks you to wire a payment, that’s a big red flag you’re probably getting scammed. Also, be aware of “fake roommates” who say they’re out of town and can provide rent up front with a money order.

For parents with college students, it’s a good time to start having a conversation about credit, and your students are probably already getting bombarded with free credit card offers. Make sure you do your research on those credit card flyers, emails and promotions before applying, especially ones that boast free money and deals.

If the company asks you to apply online and provide a social security number or any upfront fees, chances are it's a scam. Parents should also keep a close eye on their own bank account.

“Many times, the student will have their own debit card, but it will be linked to their parents account. Parents and students need to be able to check their credit history regularly and make sure that nothing is hitting their accounts that they haven’t actually authorized," said Wikstrom.

Student loan scams can affect people even after graduation, so it’s important to always keep a close eye on your personal information and who you share it with.

The BBB also recommends college students to check their credit reports regularly to help spot out any unusual activity.

Wikstrom said individuals should also report the scam on the BBB’s scamtracker and write reviews online to help prevent others.

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