Students around the country are heading back to school in a matter of weeks—if they haven’t started already, that is—so there’s no better time to prepare for scams and fraud. Crimes that target the identities of young people have risen steadily in recent years, and there’s no better victim than a student with a “clean slate” credit report and quick access to spending power.
There are a few ways that scammers can target young people’s identities, and unfortunately, a lot of the avenues for this crime go hand-in-hand with heading off to college. The need for a new credit card, the requirement to move into a new place and activate utilities, even the temporary halt on your mail while you settle in at school can all lead to scams if you don’t know what can be a threat.
Here are just a few of the things that young adults need to protect themselves against as they head into another school year
Ah, the Credit Cards!
As recently as a few years ago, you couldn’t walk across a college quad without being inundated with credit card offers. These sideshow carnival hawkers would call out to students and offer everything from free t-shirts to frisbees to pizzas to even the chance to win high-end electronics. New legislation about what financial institutions can do to lure young people into applying for outrageously high-interest credit cards has helped, but it didn’t solve all the problems.
Remember, when you fill out an application for a new credit card, you’re handing over your entire identity to someone who stuck a piece of paper and a free pen in your face. But do you really need a credit card with a 29 percent interest rate? And do you really trust the hourly wage or contract employee who’s going to take your application? If you can’t honestly answer positively, skip the card. Head back to your room and do some homework online for the best credit card, if you even need a card, that is.
College students love earning extra money. If the job fits around their course and study schedules it might be hard to resist. Unfortunately, that’s exactly how scammers steal identities from unsuspecting students. The ability to make thousands of dollars a month (or even per week, according to some ads) while still having time for class, studying and socializing is certainly enticing…and scammers know it.
Protect yourself by being a little skeptical. There isn’t a job that will pay you a lot of money for doing nothing or for setting your own hours and working in your pajamas. Also remember that a legitimate job won’t require a processing fee, an upfront out-of-pocket cost or needs all of your identifying information in order to apply.
You wouldn’t think college students have all that much stuff to move, but remember, you’re creating a whole new residence. As such, there are a lot of moving scams online that promise to store or transport your goods. The only catch is you have to pay upfront for the service, and then you have to cross your fingers and hope they actually show up to help.
Instead, only deal with reputable companies in your vicinity that you can see face-to-face. If you’re moving so far that you can’t meet them in person—such as moving across the country to go to school—try to find an escrow service that will hold your payment until the job is completed and both parties are satisfied.
Financial Aid Scams
There will never be a point in which a college student couldn’t use a little free money for tuition, books, housing or meals. Scammers are actually counting on this need in order to target you with financial aid scams.
Scholarships, grants, and low-interest loans certainly exist and make college possible for a lot of students, but for every genuine opportunity, there’s a scam waiting to snare you instead. Never give your information to a website or online ad that you haven’t verified, and run away if you’re ever told to pay a “processing” or application fee. Even better, check with your student financial aid office for reputable sources of funding for school.
There are plenty of things about college life that can trip you up, but falling victim to scams and frauds shouldn’t be part of it. Just use your head and trust your instincts, but when in doubt, reach out to your school, your family or a faculty advisor for information before you act.
Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.