Back-to-school scams: College students beware of potential scheming swindlers

The fall college semester is starting again, which means students across the nation are preparing to dole out tons of money on tuition payments and school supplies again. 

Unfortunately, it's a prime opportunity for scammers to try to rob students of that money through various schemes, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The nonprofit organization, dedicated to creating an ethical marketplace, warned students ahead of the school year to be wary of various tactics scammers may use to steal their money or identity. 

Some of these tactics could be phishing emails claiming to be from a university or college's financial department or fake emails directing students to sign in to a link with their student credentials.  

"Doing so could give the username, password or other personal information to scammers, while possibly downloading malware onto the device," the organization said. 

Young adults are victims of identity theft even more often than the elderly, according to a report from the Federal Trade Commission. 

Some reasons younger individuals fall victim more often is in part because they are "hard up for money", according to Richard Barrington, financial analyst for Credit Sesame. 

"The combination of low-wage jobs and the high cost of continuing education makes them eager to look for special deals or income sources," Barrington said. "Too often, these are too good to be true."

It is a time in their life when they are dealing with bank accounts, credit cards and, in some cases, apartments for the first time. Navigating these firsts can be daunting. 

"It takes some experience to learn to handle all these things safely and successfully," he said. "Unfortunately, when it comes to personal finance, experience is an expensive teacher."

Here are important scams students need to look out for, according to the Better Business Bureau: 

Fake credit cards 

Although offers to apply for credit cards can be tempting, they could "create credit problems down the road due to unchecked spending," the BBB said. Additionally, some deals could be fake and only designed to access a person's personal information.

It's vital to research the offer and the banking institution before applying to anything. The BBB also offers tips on how to spot a credit card scam. For instance, officials say scammers can try and contact consumers by phone, email or text and claim to be from the issuing bank or credit card company. 

The phone call generally begins with a "robocall" recording, either offering the consumer a better interest rate, asking them to update account information to send them a new card with more perks or asking them to verify a purchase. 

However, the "promise of a ridiculously low rate may come with an upfront charge, or the scammer may ask to confirm personal information such as the credit card number, security code and address," all of which can be used to steal someone's identity, the BBB said. 

Barrington cautioned that credit problems could burden consumers for decades. 

"They can make using credit more expensive to use in the future or even prevent you from getting it," he said. "Since employers and landlords are increasingly checking the credit histories of their applicants, credit problems can also limit your job and housing options." 

In some states, "those problems can even raise the cost of your car insurance, something young people are already paying very high rates for," he added. 

Apartments that are too good to be true

Students need to be wary of apartment advertisements. 

In a rental scam, the listing will usually tout a beautiful spot with low rent. In many cases, con artists will use real photos and descriptions stolen from other websites, and the "landlord" will claim to be out of town or unable to show the property in person, according to the BBB. 

It can apply to ads on Craigslist or social media ads such as on Facebook marketplace, according to the organization. 

The BBB recommends seeing an apartment in person before any money transfer, including providing credit card information online. 

Identity theft 

It's important to regularly check credit reports for unusual activity and possible ID fraud. This can be done on for free. 

One way to know if your identity has been stolen is if you receive statements or bills for accounts you never opened, if you are surprised by a denied loan or if there is suspicious activity in your bank account such as unfamiliar charges, new accounts or withdraws, according to the BBB.  

Scholarship and grant scams 

Students should be cautious of phone calls from companies guaranteeing help with reducing loan payments or calls offering a massive grant. 

In most cases, con artists will claim to represent the government, a university or a nonprofit organization and use words like "national" and "federal" to sound credible. They will generally claim that someone has won a scholarship or a grant without applying and ask for a one-time payment "processing fee," according to the BBB. 

However, if consumers search the company's name, it will, in most cases, bring up scam alerts or negative reviews.

"Students and their families should be wary of websites, seminars or other schemes that promise to find scholarships, grants or financial aid packages for a fee," the organization added. 

Online shopping scams

Scammers are also trying to take advantage of consumers who are online shopping. Con artists have been known to create fake websites as well as sell substandard products at "too good to be true" prices, according to the BBB. 

"Any ads pop up with enticing gadgets, cute merchandise or items with subliminal "I gotta have it" messages, making it irresistible to click and check them out," the organization said. "Unfortunately, some of these companies aren't quite what they seem." 

In some instances, the product will never show up and, at other times, it will be of bad quality. 

The organization says consumers should ensure they know the advertiser and check the site’s security settings. 

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