Tips to Avoid Financial Aid Scams, a Census Scam and a Bank of America Phishing Scam

Financial aid scams increase sharply, seniors fooled by fake census, and phishing scammers exploit fears of identity theft: Internet ScamBusters #254

Today we have another Snippets issue for you. We’ll focus on these three topics:

  • Tips to Avoid Financial Aid Scams
  • Beware: Seniors Scammed by Bogus Census
  • Another Phishing Scam Targets Bank of America and Other Bank Customers

Tips to Avoid Financial Aid Scams

We’ve written about financial aid scams before, especially in an article called “<a href=””>College scholarships: What you don’t know CAN hurt you!”

However, we felt this was a good time to let you know about a financial aid scam we haven’t warned you about that is a variant of the overpayment scam. We’ll also provide a few additional tips to help you protect yourself from financial aid scams.

New Staggering Scam Statistic

According to the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB), financial aid scams rose dramatically in 2006, up 60% from 2005! As the cost of a college education skyrockets, it’s not surprising that students and parents are falling for financial aid scams in larger numbers.

Financial Aid Overpayment Scam

One new popular financial aid scam is a variant of the overpayment scam.

In this scam, students receive a bogus check, along with an official-looking letter saying they received a scholarship. “Winners” are asked to deposit the checks into their bank accounts, and then, for a variety of reasons, send some of the money back to the scammers via a wire transfer.

Naturally the checks are counterfeit, and so the students lose the money they have wired to the scammers.

Tips to Avoid Financial Aid Scams

Here are three tips to help college students and their parents avoid financial aid fraud:

  1. Don’t send money back. As we just mentioned, if you receive a “financial aid” check in the mail, make sure it came from a source you applied to. Do not deposit a check from an organization that requires you to return some of the funds — it’s a scam and the check is fake.
  2. Don’t give out your personal information. If someone contacts you via phone or email, and claims they need your Social Security number, credit card number, or bank routing number to process your application, hang up or delete the email. And never send sensitive data in an email.
  3. Don’t pay to apply. Legitimate scholarship and grant sources do not require application fees, processing fees or insurance fees.

Beware: Seniors Scammed by Bogus Census

A new direct mail scam targets civic-minded senior citizens with a phony “census” that’s nothing but a money-making sham.

The questionnaire is supposedly sent by “‘The Council of Seniors” and is titled “<a href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>2007 Census of Senior Citizens,” reports

You are told that “you have been selected as a representative of your voting district to take part in the official Census of Senior Citizens,” and that your responses will “make it crystal clear to our leaders in Washington what our priorities are.”

In addition to making the package appear to be an official product of the U.S. Census Bureau, the scammers have cleverly directed the “survey” to seniors, knowing they tend to vote in greater numbers and tend to respond more readily to government information requests than younger people.

After asking a series of questions about “hot button” political, economic and social issues, the mailer requests that recipients include a “contribution to help defray the costs of the survey.”

In reality, any financial contributions made will land squarely in the pockets of scammers who couldn’t care less about what seniors think about healthcare, taxes or immigration.

Action: Avoiding this scam is quite easy: shred the fake survey. The U.S. Census Bureau NEVER asks for financial contributions from the people it surveys.

Another Phishing Scam Targets Bank of America and Other Bank Customers

As always, it’s “phishing season” for Internet scammers. The only thing that changes — and changes often — is the “bait” used to “hook” victims.

This lure comes in the form of spam email, which claims to be a “security alert” aimed at Bank of America customers. However, as usual, the emails appear to have been sent to random addresses — not just the bank’s customers.

The most common email going around has the real Bank of America logo and the subject ‘Security Update Alert.’

The poorly written text then informs recipients that “because of an unusual number of invalid login attempts on you account, we had to believe that, their might be some security problem on you account.

“So we have decided to put an extra verification process to ensure your identity and your account security. Please follow the link below and fill in the necessary requirements.”

People clicking on the link are taken to a bogus website that looks like the Bank of America website, where they are asked to supply sensitive personal and account information. This information is then used by the scammers to empty the victims’ bank accounts.

Regular readers will note that this email bears all the hallmarks of a classic phishing scam:

  • Poor grammar, typos and spelling errors;
  • A request that you click on a link within the email rather than visiting the company’s official site; and
  • A request to provide sensitive information. Legitimate companies will NEVER ask that you provide personal and financial information in response to an email.

Action: If you receive this email — or any other suspicious email — do NOT click on the link! Instead, delete it. If you are concerned that the email is legitimate, contact the customer service department of your financial institution and ask them to verify whether the email is genuine.

Scammers are also using emails with similar messages that look like they come from other banks.

You can find more information on phishing at <a href=””>Phishing Scams: How You Can Protect Yourself.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.