As summer vacation draws to a close, your Better Business Bureau is warning students and parents or guardians to beware of potential back to school scams. During back to school season, it is not uncommon for scammers to capitalize on the chaos and confusion of another school year by attempting to obtain personal and financial information from unsuspecting victims.
“According to the National Retail Federation, families are expected to spend $75.8 billion this year on school supplies for grades K-12 and college,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “In addition to the fact that young adults take the longest to detect identity theft, there is a lot of opportunity for scammers to target students as they prepare for class.”
Avoid falling for these back to school scams with tips from your BBB:
Financial Aid Scams: From seminars, to scholarships and even student loan scams, financial aid scams come in many forms. A scholarship scam may claim money is guaranteed, but the winner just needs to provide bank account information first for the funds to be deposited directly into their account. A typical student loan scam will claim to be able to get rid of debt, but asks for a fee to be paid up front, which is illegal. Many of these fraudulent operations use official-sounding names with the words federal or national, but be warned, they are not affiliated with any actual government agency.
BBB Tip: Investigate scholarship services and debt consolidation companies with BBB at bbb.org or by calling 877-267-5222. The FTC also recommends visiting StudentAid.gov, the U.S. Department of Education's site for free information on funding education. Like scholarship scams, a request for up-front payment is a tell-tale sign of a student loan scam. Real lenders will take a percentage once their service is complete. In addition, always keep in mind that any company claiming to erase your student loan debt in minutes or that needs you to sign something to provide power to negotiate on your behalf with debt collectors should be dealt with cautiously, as these are scam tactics.
Online Income Scams: Online income scams target students and those who are unemployed with promises of quick and easy work and unlimited earning potential. Especially leading into back to school season, scam websites will target job seekers looking to make ends meet or earn additional income. Such websites and online listings promote opportunities that seem too good to be true, but victims are often lured into taking a chance by the ease of participation and seemingly low risk.
BBB Tip: Before participating in an online income opportunity, run an internet search using the company’s name and website domain. Online search results can be very helpful in determining the legitimacy of an offer. Consider how long the business has been in existence and research to substantiate such claims. Be skeptical of exaggerated statistics, potentially fabricated testimonials and promises of high earning potential for simple jobs that appeal to a wide range of applicants. Look for obvious spelling and grammatical errors, which are red flags of an overseas scam. Ask yourself if you have a firm understanding of who the company is, where it is located and the terms/conditions of the income opportunity.
Roommate/Rental Scams: In a typical roommate or rental scam, students are targeted by scammers that post ads for a roommate on Craigslist or another online listing site. These potential roommates are out of the country, but can provide rent upfront in the form of a money order or check. The scammers may also claim to be in the military or foreign exchange students who had delays with their Visa to seem more believable. When victims receive the payment, the amount sent is higher than the amount requested, which the scammer claims was a simple mistake. They’re then asked to wire transfer back the extra amount, which is known as the overpayment scam.
BBB Tip: Avoid being the victim of an overpayment scam by confirming exactly who you’re dealing with. In any transaction, confirm the sender’s name, permanent street address and telephone number. Never wire transfer funds back to someone, even if it seems like an honest mistake. Avoid accepting payment for more than the promised or agreed upon price, even if it’s tempting to do so. You should also never assume that a check is legitimate, as it may take weeks for a financial institution to learn that it is counterfeit. Keep in mind; you are the party who is ultimately liable to your financial institution.
Online Shopping Scams: Many students shop online for convenience, but if you see a highly sought after item being promoted at a steep discount, thoroughly investigate the website, as it may be too good to be true. Online companies offering trial offers may also be suspect and it’s important to know how much these products and services are going to cost you once the free trial offer expires.
BBB Tip: Before ordering any merchandise, check the URL link to make sure it starts with https. Also look for a small lock icon located at the corner of the URL bar. Make sure to confirm the address and phone number of the online business in case there are any issues contacting them. Read the return policy to see if the business allows a full refund if a customer is not happy with the product. Review the policy to see who pays for the cost of shipping and handling for the return. Always pay with a credit card when shopping online and print receipts and product information of any online purchases to help prevent incorrect charges.