While you’re getting your education, things can move quickly. Unfortunately, while you’re wrapped up in the whirlwind of going to college, there are people and groups out there looking to scam you out of your money or valuable information.
They may try to convince you that they’ve got a great offer, or even scare you into giving them what they want. Whatever their strategy, scammers prey on your emotions to manipulate you into doing what they want.
However, when you know the signs, scams are easier to avoid. Here are five examples of common scams pulled on college students and how to sidestep them!
Scholarship and financial aid scams
The promise of getting free money to pay for school is always enticing, and scammers use that to their advantage. They’ll promote fake scholarships or financial aid opportunities and request your identification and even banking information.
Once they have this information, they’ll use your identity to withdraw money from your accounts or open credit cards in your name.
To avoid scholarship scams:
- Always research who’s offering you a scholarship or financial aid. Search the company or organization and look for their Google reviews, Better Business Bureau complaints, and any other information about their reputation.
- Never pay or give banking information when applying for a scholarship.
- Rely on free resources to find scholarships, such as College Board’s Scholarship Search tool and the CareerOneStop scholarship search provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Try looking locally for scholarships. Check for opportunities at your high school or even your job if you’re working.
- Check with your college to see if they offer any scholarships for their students.
Student loan relief scams
Like scholarship scams, student loan relief scams offer something unrealistic in order to bait you.
Many times, scammers will call, email, text, send letters, or even reach out on social media to inform you that you’re “eligible for partial or total student loan forgiveness” or that a “special student loan relief program is ending soon.” But these are just tactics they use to get you interested.
To avoid student loan relief scams:
- Don’t give out your personal information, like your Social Security Number and tax info, to student loan relief companies.
- Be cautious when you receive offers for student loan relief, and be especially skeptical of loan forgiveness offers. It’s rare that your loans will be outright forgiven.
- Don’t pay any up-front or monthly fees for help with your student loan repayment. It’s illegal to charge these fees, and your federal loan servicer will offer free, helpful services to you. If you have private loans, always check with your loan holder before accepting any student loan relief.
- If you do not know who your federal loan servicer is, you can log into www.studentaid.gov to obtain their name and contact information.
- Read any student loan relief offers carefully. Look for spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. Also, if you feel like the offer is trying to pressure you into contacting them, that’s a huge red flag.
Student loan relief scams and impersonation scams are similar because both rely on deception. With impersonation scams, the scammer will usually pretend to be the government, your bank, or another company that you trust with your information.
A common type of impersonation scam happens around tax time. Scammers pretending to be the Internal Revenue Service (or IRS) will reach out and ask you to fill out a form to receive your tax refund. They’ll ask for your Social Security Number and other identifying tax information.
Once they have it, they’ll attempt to use your identity to take money from your bank accounts or open credit cards in your name.
To avoid impersonation scams:
- Check the email address. Scammers will sometimes “spoof” official email addresses, using ones that are close to the real thing. For example, a scammer pretending to be the IRS might use “.com” in their email address instead of the legitimate “.gov” ending.
- Don’t click on any links in suspicious emails. They may try to get your information that way.
- If you receive a message from a company that you think might be a scam, don’t contact the company using the information in the suspicious message. Go to the company’s website and contact them directly.
- Check for typos and generic greetings like “Dear customer,” or “Hello Dear,”. Legitimate companies and government organizations will usually have a custom greeting using your name, and they will most likely have no typos or grammar errors.
Bringing in extra income in college can help pay for the cost of attending school or cover living expenses while finishing your degree. Scammers know students are always looking for jobs, and they’ll use that to attempt to trick students like you into providing their personal information for bogus job applications.
A scammer may present an opportunity for a great internship that provides valuable experience. Or maybe, they’ll try to entice you with easy work, flexible hours, and great pay. But like scholarship scams, the reward is often too good to be true.
To avoid employment scams:
- Before accepting a job offer, research the company that intends to hire you. Does their website look organized and professional? Do they have contact information easily available?
- See what other people are saying about the company. Check the company’s reviews on Google, Indeed, Glassdoor, and similar job sites.
- Like the other scams we’ve mentioned, keep an eye out for typos and other errors in emails or texts you receive from companies looking to hire you.
- Be cautious of companies that are too casual. If a company is willing to hire you without an interview or pay you before you’ve actually worked for them, that’s a little fishy, and you should ignore their offers.
- Never send money to a company that wants to hire you. A real, legitimate company will never ask you to pay them.
Receiving an email from your school that says your tuition payment is late would be startling, no? It may make you react immediately, clicking on the link they provide in their email to update your information or send payment. This is exactly what a scammer sending false tuition emails is hoping for.
Tuition and fees scams often prey on your fear, but other scammers may try to offer you a “discount” on your tuition when you pay through a third party servicer. That’s just their way of obtaining your credit card or banking information so they can steal your money.
To avoid tuition scams:
- Only use payment methods that are approved by your specific university. That way, you can be sure that your payment method won’t be rejected and your tuition will be paid. You can always check with the cashier or bursar’s office at your college to find out how to pay a balance owed to your school.
- Don’t use third-party servicers to pay your tuition for you. Send your tuition payments directly to your school through their student portal or the official payment system they have in place.
- Contact your financial aid office about any potential tuition discounts or third-party payment methods. They can verify which ones are real and which are frauds.
How to report scammers
Using what you know about student scams, you’ll be able to spot scammers and avoid their schemes. You can report any of the scams discussed above to the Federal Trade Commission (or FTC) using their easy online complaint assistant, or you can call your state and local attorney general’s office to file a report.
With the info and tips above, you’ll have the tools and knowledge you need to stop scammers in their tracks!
For over 25 years, I have worked to help students go to college. The last 15 of those years have been focused on providing one on one counseling to students, parents and family members throughout the financial aid and college-going process.
I am a financial coach because I enjoy talking with people, and helping them with building their future by exploring their educational, personal and financial goals, and celebrating their successes. I hope to provide the tools and support you need to help you achieve your goals.