NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As students take out billions of dollars in loans to get that highly-coveted college education, there are a growing number of fraudsters who are scheming and dreaming up ways to steal some of that cash.
"There's been a surge in scammers everywhere, and college students are particularly vulnerable," said Adam Levin, co-founder of Credit.com and founder of IDT911, an identity theft and data breach site.
He says many students are naïve about money, identity theft and fraud, which makes them easy targets. And scammers are becoming more sophisticated and creative at spoofing and fooling them out of their cash. Many students are overly trusting and think little about sharing information when asked for it.
Levin blames the education system for failing to teach young people about money, credit and identity security.
”We want our students to understand the concept of Shakespearean drama," he said. "But because we don't teach them about credit and we don't teach them about identity, their lives could end up being Shakespearean dramas."
Levin offers a top ten list of scams currently targeting students:
1. The Tuition Scam. The fraudster calls or emails a student, claiming to be from the college admissions department. Sometimes the crook spoofs IDs to make it look like he's coming from a legitimate organization. The scammer claims the student's tuition fee is late and claims the student will be immediately dropped from classes if a payment isn't made immediately by credit card. Levin says students need to hang up immediately on such calls and contact the college's admissions department directly.
2. Bad Behavior. Students are notorious for their hard-partying, free-spirited lifestyles in college. But behind every smartphone is a camera that can photograph and videotape embarrassing indiscretions -- which can later be used against the student to extort money. "Yes, there are people who will pretend to like you but are actually setting you up for blackmail," said Levin. "One only has to look to the recent Ashley Madison hack to see what can happen when extremely personal information falls into the wrong hands." He recommends students think twice about their actions while at college - "and if they're drinking, think 10 or 20 times" before acting, he says.
3. Fake Credit Cards. Students often feel flattered - and "grown up" - when they're offered deals to score their first credit card. But some offers are fake, aimed at getting naïve students to hand over personal information - or lure them to sites that have malware or add malicious software to the student's computer. Always check out a credit card offer before clicking a link or handing over any personal information.
4. Passwords. Everyone knows they should never use simple or easy-to-use passwords on email accounts or other sites and never use the same password on multiple sites. But students need to be particularly savvy about where they store those passwords, as leaving them on smartphones and laptops in college dorms make them vulnerable to theft. Levin recommends they use the free programs out there that store passwords.
5. Advance Fees. If someone offers to find a student a loan, job, scholarship or other service for a "fee," it's likely a scam. This is particularly true if the scammer says a "scholarship is guaranteed or your money back" or claims "you can't get this information anywhere else" or insists on a credit card to "hold" the scholarship. In general, the higher the fee, the more suspicious the person should be, said Levin.
6. Online books. Never buy books online without first checking out reviews or talking to friends to validate the site or seller. Sometimes, it's just a front for identity theft.
7. Non-existent Apartments. Never agree to rent an apartment without seeing it first - both inside and outside - and meeting with the landlord. This scam is simple: Offer a great apartment, collect rent or a deposit over the phone for a place you don't own, and then disappear.
8. Check Cashing. In this scam, a "friend" asks the student to cash a check for him - and might even offer to let the student keep some of the cash for the trouble. Once the check is deposited, it bounces, and the student is out both the money and a returned check fee.
9. Watch The Wi-Fi. College students, more than anyone, spend mountains of time online via WiFI at coffee shops, restaurants and parks. Hackers and thieves prey on them by setting up an alternative WiFi site - often dubbed a "man in the middle" site - that looks similar to the main site but is actually a scammer trying to get students to connect to their site where they steal a person's information.
10. Never Give Out A Social Security Number - Ever! Students are often too trusting and open, and geared toward answering questions and information. If someone's credit card is stolen, it can be canceled and a new card issued. But if a Social Security number is stolen, the repercussions can last a lifetime. "When a scammer gains access to your social security number, they have an option on your life and you have to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life," said Levin. "You can change a credit card number, but you can't change your Social Security number.”
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.