As young adults diving into the wide world alone for the first time, college students are often the intended targets of scams. Lack of experience and a thirst for independence make students susceptible to the trickery and deceit of cunning con artists, slippery swindlers and malicious mountebanks. Even the brightest students can fall victim to the schemes of nefarious tricksters. Intellect has little do with it. Avoiding scams requires a worldliness that comes with age. Fortunately, you don’t have to face life utterly unprepared. A little basic knowledge and a healthy pinch of vigilance can go great lengths in guarding any student from malevolent trickery. Here are a few of the most common college scams and how to avoid them.
With the Internet, finding scholarships should be a cinch. But contrary to what logic dictates, scholarship searches have only grown more complex. Many scholarship search sites dress themselves as beneficent tools created for the purpose of helping students find financial aid; but are actually traps set to lure in the vulnerable and hopeful. When cruising the net for financial awards, proceed with caution. A site that asks for personal information should be regarded with suspicion. Many will ask for an e-mail address only to sell that address and pump it full of spam. You also should never pay for a service that helps you find or apply for scholarships. These are rarely beneficial and do nothing you couldn’t do for yourself. Stick to free scholarship search tools and assess each award’s legitimacy before submitting an application.
Social Media Scams
A growing stereotype amongst college students is a worsening addiction to social media. Few have been untouched by the long, reaching fingers of Facebook. Scam artists have seized the opportunity to feed on unsuspecting kids. One such technique involves scammers setting up fake pages for universities and reaching out to the college’s students to acquire e-mail address. Phony pages and profiles are created to harvest personal information. In its most innocuous incarnation, this sort of scam means an inbox full of spam. In its most hostile form, social media fraud can result in identity theft. To avoid these scams, add only friends you know, limit the information you post online and be wary of invitations to like pages.
Perhaps the most terrifying scam of the modern age is identity theft. A stolen identity can have devastating results. Imposters can use your information to make unwarranted purchases, open phony accounts and sign up for services you would never in your right mind contemplate utilizing. Avoid identity theft is simple, really. You must follow one rule: guard your personal information. However, it is a rule you must follow completely and without pause. As mentioned in the social media scam example, the Internet is a great place to open yourself up to thieves. Make purchases only from websites you trust absolutely. Sites like Amazon are generally safe. If you don’t personally know anyone who can vouch for a site, avoid it. Again, limit the information you post on social media. Don’t list e-mail addresses or phone numbers. Never divulge information that seems unnecessary or gratuitous. For example, there would be absolutely no reason to give up your social security number to join a D&D mailing list. Keep credit card numbers, PIN numbers and other financial information carefully guarded, both online and in the physical world.
Credit Card Rip-Offs
The credit card world is laden with scams, and college students, being new to the credit game, are particularly susceptible. Be wary of signing up for cards from issuers you’re not familiar with–and not only credit cards, but prepaid debit as well. You risk the chance of relaying information to a phony lender and potential identity thief. And even the card is actually available and functioning, you need to be exceedingly cautious about hidden fees and unreasonable rates. Know what to expect from a credit card. Your APR should never exceed 25% and student card annual fees should never exceed $30 or so. Always, always, always read the fine print. Learn to read Schumer boxes–they are your friend. Try applying for a credit card with you bank or co-sign with your parents.
Don’t Buy Speakers From the Back of a Van
Embarrassingly enough, NerdWallet’s own Joseph Audette fell victim to this one in his freshman year at MIT. Be wary of people trying to sell you random wares out of the back of random vans. The items are probably a) stolen, b) overpriced or c) both. Nice Joe. Nice.