Caution and research can beat college scam ID theft, financial, accommodation and job scams: Internet Scambusters #349
College scam tricks and fraud can add money and headaches to the already rocketing costs and other pressures of being a college student.
Yet by applying the same principles of research and study to your life as you do to your learning, you can spot and avoid the pitfalls.
In this issue, we outline the 5 biggest student scams you'll encounter on and off campus, with some tips on how to deal (or not deal) with them.
Let's check out today's issue...
5 College Scam Tricks That Will Hurt Your Wallet, Your Education or Your Reputation
College scams come in many forms. A few weeks back, we outlined some of the trickery you're likely to encounter with online and home tutor scams. Check out Tutor Scam Alert for Work-Seekers.
This week, as students all over the world assemble for the start of another year's study, we switch our focus to the college campus for a close-up look at 5 big time student scams that will either hurt your wallet, your education or your reputation -- and maybe all three.
In some cases, young people and their parents will already have encountered some of the student scams outlined here -- phony scholarship schemes for example. Others provide a timely warning for the start of the academic year.
One thing is for sure, with college costs currently rising at double the level of inflation, paying for your (or your kids') higher education is a painful enough process without getting snared by some of these schemes.
1. Student identity theft.
This is by far the biggest category of college scams. As heavy Internet users, sometimes too trusting of others, young people are particularly vulnerable to identity theft scams.
This happens especially on social networks like Facebook, where scammers have set up phony pages that look like official college pages, harvesting names either for ID theft or to be sold on marketing lead lists.
Student identity theft is such a huge issue that we previously created a guide on the subject: The College Student's Guide to Identity Theft.
2. Scholarship scams.
This is another biggie. There are tens of thousands of legitimate scholarships on offer out there. So many, in fact, it's hard to know where to start.
There are two main scams operating here:
- Phony scholarships. These either don't exist or they are so small as to be hardly worth applying for. The aim, again, is to harvest personal details of applicants for ID theft or marketing purposes.
- Charging a fee for scholarship search matching. This isn't illegal but it's totally unnecessary since scholarship information is available free online, at sites like FastWeb.com or FindTuition.com.
And be sure to check out our previous issue on scams about college scholarships.
3. Loans and other financial student scams.
These days, you're lucky if you can get through college without taking out a loan. But you can end up in a mess if you go to the wrong people for it.
The main, legit source, which should always be your starting point is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA.
Note the "Free" in that title. Be aware that other organizations use "FAFSA" in their names or services, offering to help you file your claim -- for a fee. Again, it's perfectly legal for them to do so, but why pay?
And note that, as in the commercial world, there are plenty of people prepared to lend you money at different rates (including "payday loan" types of firms), some of which are astronomical.
There have even been reports of some less reputable colleges taking kickbacks from lenders for steering students their way.
This is an area where doing your research definitely pays off. Start with the FAFSA site, talk to your bank or check out reputable independent research sites like FindTuition.com mentioned above.
Another financial area to do your research and be cautious is the specialist field of student insurance.
When you're away from home, you may not be protected on the insurance policies that cover your parent's (or main) home.
But you'd be well advised to speak to your existing company or a local insurance agency before being targeted by someone supposedly selling costly or bogus student insurance on campus.
4. Student accommodation scams.
Finding a place to live at the right price beyond a college's own residences can be a real headache. There are two key pitfalls to watch out for:
- Unsuitable or overpriced accommodation. Rental owners are supposedly governed by fairly strict controls over the conditions in which they must maintain their properties. In practice, unscrupulous landlords get away with murder -- almost literally.And they can basically charge what they like. So again, research pays off. Many colleges maintain lists of "approved" landlords and some even inspect premises before approving them.
- Non-existent rentals. Yes, this scam, which is widely practiced in the non-student world as well, involves a crook offering you a house or apartment they don't own, taking your money upfront and then disappearing.Reputation and college accommodation lists are the best guide, though you can check ownership for free with the local County authorities. And be sure you never send an electronic money transfer -- especially to someone you haven't thoroughly checked out.
5. Phony student employment.
Beware of jobs that involve door-to-door selling, especially of magazines or artwork.
These often are covers for scams in which either the product you're selling doesn't exist, or the cause for which it is supposedly raising money is bogus.
Students who have been lured into this type of scam often also do not get paid or, if they do, earn a pittance that's related to how many products they've sold.
Students are also targets for work-at-home scams of the sort we've previously highlighted here.
A particularly common trick is to charge fees for things like training, accreditation, kits or other materials you supposedly need for the job. Simply don't part with your money on schemes like this.
These are the 5 main college scam tricks you're likely to come across during your time at college. But there are others, like: counterfeit tickets for graduations, student events and entertainment; bogus or unlicensed colleges; and phony accreditation. We've written about most of these in previous issues.
The key to avoiding them all is to realize that there are people out there, including maybe some of your fellow students, just waiting to rip you off.
And since a large part of what lies ahead of you relies on careful research and detailed study, our advice is to apply those same principles as much to living your life as you do your studies -- then you can graduate with honors in both!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!