Summer is officially winding down, and the site of swimming suits and convertibles will soon be replaced with backpacks and big yellow school buses. You have your “to-do” list practically complete, but students – especially college students – aren't fully prepared until they’ve been warned about these scams that specifically target them. From a scammer’s point of view, a young person away from their parents for the first time and eager to be independent is an easy target.
The Roommate/Rental Scheme
Beware: Searching for a roommate using classified or Craig’s List ads.
Scammers will pose as an interested roommate, often from another country. The scammer will send a check or money order for more than a month’s rent. They’ll probably say “cash this money order, use what you need to, and send me back the rest.” The money order or check is fake. If you cash the check or deposit it, you’ll end up owing your bank.
Solution: Find your roommate through the Campus Student Life Center.
Quick tip: Never cash a check and forward an overpayment via Western Union, MoneyGram or with a prepaid credit card to someone you don’t know. This is the most common way scammers obtain your money.
Beware: Applying for and using credit cards to build your credit.
Many credit card companies will charge an annual fee at the time of the first use and/or high interest rates on your purchases. Solution: If you decide to apply for a credit card, read the fine print and pay your bill each month.
Quick tip: Be wise about using credit cards. Abusing them while you are a student can damage your credit rating and haunt you for the rest of your life.
Beware: Responding to want ads for jobs like painting or sales for college students.
Most often these “opportunities” are bogus and have been known to fine students for not performing! If you are interviewed in a hotel lobby, are required to sign a contract or you have to pay for everything, including training, forget it! In addition, most “work-at-home” jobs are scams.
Solution: Use your college’s career or job center, never agree to a financial commitment and check out possible employers online at bbb.org.
Quick tip: Never give out your social security number or banking information unless you are certain is a legitimate company offering you a job. Check a company’s BBB Review and contact them directly. Remember, if a job sounds too good to be true, it isn’t real!
Beware: Paying for a scholarships list.
Many so-called scholarship-finding services will tell you “millions of dollars in private scholarship money goes unused every year.” These services sell lists of potential scholarship or grant opportunities to students. The fact is, nearly all available financial aid comes from the federal government or from individual colleges. No one can guarantee that they’ll get you a grant or a scholarship. Refund guarantees often have conditions or strings attached.
Solution: It’s a bad idea to pay for these lists, but if you decide to anyway, be sure to get refund policies in writing—before you pay. Free money shouldn’t cost a thing.
Quick tip: The best scholarship and financial aid information is available in your college’s financial aid office. Start there, because that info is FREE!
Safeguard your ID
Beware: Sharing your personal information.
New college students are prime targets for Identity Theft as they have virtually clean credit histories.
Solution: Keep close tabs on your IDs, debit or credit cards, bank information, etc. Avoid online solicitations for your personal information via emails, and shopping or social networking sites.
Quick tip: Shred unneeded documents with personal information and be certain your physical mailbox is secure. Also, you can monitor your identity information and receive an ACTUAL FREE CREDIT REPORT at annualcreditreport.com.
Online Shopping Deals
Beware: Buying merchandise online.
An item is for sale online -- like the newest iPad-- for a price you can’t pass up. The only catch? The site asks you to wire payment to them instead of using a credit card. Once the money is sent, the item is never received.
Solution: Never wire money to someone you do not know personally. There is no way to track it.
Quick tip: Always consult bbb.org before purchasing from a new online retailer. Also, make certain the order form is secure before providing credit card or other financial information.
Beware: Signing up for “Free Trial Offers.”
From fitness club memberships to magazine subscriptions to acne medicine, you need to know how much these products and services are going to cost you once the “Free Trial Offer” expires. By providing your credit card number to pay for shipping and handling, you may be signing up for recurring monthly shipments.
Solution: Read the fine print to know exactly when the trial period expires and how you should cancel the service.
Quick tip: Be sure to determine if you are enrolling in a membership, subscription or service contract that allows the company to charge monthly fees to credit cards.
Beware: Contacting your “local” locksmith.
If you lock yourself out of your home or car, you’ll probably use your cell phone or the yellow pages to find a nearby locksmith. The problem is that many disreputable locksmiths post bogus addresses in their yellow page ads to make them appear local, but they’re not.
The BBB has received hundreds of complaints from consumers who were quoted one price on the phone and charged much more after the locksmith was finished, or they were charged an exorbitant travel charge.
Solution: Since some of these unethical locksmiths will pose as their own reviewers online, the best advice is to check them out at bbb.org for an unbiased rating.
Quick tip: Locksmiths are not a regulated industry and the bad companies sometimes hire ex-cons. Beware as you want to be safe, as well as get a fair and predictable price for the service.