Watch Out for these Back to School Scams

The start of a new school year is a very busy time for both students and families, and as such, it’s the perfect setting for scammers to strike. With so much to do—registration forms, back to school supply shopping, even moving into a college dorm or apartment—it’s easy for something less than honest to slip in.

For younger students, one of the main culprits at this time of year is identity theft. Child identity theft has been rising steadily in the past few years because their credit scores are “clean slates,” and most parents never think to check their kids’ credit reports for signs of unusual activity. At the same time, everywhere you look, someone is requesting your child’s Social Security number, whether it’s a doctor’s office for a school checkup, a sports physical form for activities or even the registration forms for the school itself.

No matter who is requesting your child’s personal identifiable information, you have to stop and ask yourself some key questions. Why do they need the SSN? How will they safeguard it, and who else can see it? How will it be stored so that no one in the school or doctor’s office can access it? If you don’t get solid information on those questions, think twice about handing it over.

Many of the back to school scams actually target older students, though, simply because they’re an easy target. College students who’ve left home for the first time might not be as prepared to spot a fraud attempt, and they have very specific needs now that they’re on their own. Scammers are prepared to act in a variety of ways, including:

1. Work from home scams

With limited time on their hands and the demands of an academic schedule to shoulder, work from home opportunities might sound ideal. But most of these offers are not genuine. 

Remember, no one will pay you good money to sit in your dorm room or apartment and do a menial task that could be done for free. If you’re ever required to pay money to do a job, to front the cost of “supplies,” or to submit your personal information before you’re hired, there’s a good chance this is a scam. 

2. Textbook rental scams

As sad as it is to say, there are people waiting to steal money from students who already don’t have much to spare. One prime example are textbook rental scams. These scams work because many schools and retailers do offer the option to pay to use your textbooks instead of buying them at full cost. Unfortunately, there are also scammers who set up fake websites or send out mailers, offering you every possible textbook but requiring a “registration fee,” money to secure the rental or some other plausible fee. 

Some rental scams are an outright fraud; you’ll pay the fee and never see a book. Others are simply bad deals, and they know it. You get the book, but by the time you’ve paid all the extra fees and the “damage” fees, you would have been better off buying it. 

3. Online selling scams

Websites like eBay and Craig’s List are very helpful when it comes to buying or selling items that you no longer need. There are also a number of apps that have launched in the past couple of years that offer a quick way to sell unwanted items or buy someone’s cast off goods. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers ready to cash in on the fact that college students might have a sudden need for an entire household of products: furniture, a bicycle to get around campus, a refrigerator for the dorm, and more. 

Whenever you’re shopping through a legitimately used goods or direct-buy website or app, do your homework, be smart about your physical safety, and make sure you’re not being scammed. Never pay up front for the items or via money transfer, and only meet the seller in a public location; if in doubt about the offer, walk away.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

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