ALBANY — The state Division of Consumer Protection is offering advice to help college students avoid scams.
“The best way for college students to avoid textbook, scholarship or rental scams is to be informed,” Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez. “This is an exciting time as students, often on their own for the first time, to learn how to balance their freedom and responsibilities. This new independence makes them targets for scammers.”
Scams targeting students
n Fake Scholarships, Grants or Loans — The required paperwork to apply for financial aid is the FAFSA form and it’s completely free. Visit FAFSA’s government’s website directly and don’t believe anyone who offers guarantees or pre-approvals for loans or grants.
n Unpaid Tuition Scam — Ignore calls claiming that you’ll be dropped from all classes unless you pay tuition immediately over the phone. Always call the school bursar’s office directly to verify your account status. Schools generally send an invoice to alert students of account status.
n Fake Employment or Internship Offers — Never pay an up-front fee to move forward in an interview process or provide too much personal information, such as your Social Security number, during the application or interview process.
n Buying Books Online — Scam artists set up fake websites and offer great deals on expensive textbooks only to never deliver the textbooks leaving the student out of cash and with no textbook.
Learn how to identify fake websites listings for textbooks and supplies. Before you buy, do your research, and confirm it’s a reputable source.
Pay attention to contact information and return policies. Legitimate sites provide a physical address and working phone number in the contact section.
n Roommate/Rental Scam — Scammers pose as an individual selling or renting a property or as someone on behalf of a property owner. Potential renters are then solicited for money in exchange for promises that the homes will be shown to them or rented to them upon completion of payment.
The scam is realized when there is no home for sale, or the property is already occupied.
n Credit Cards — If applying for a credit card for the first time, do your own research. Students are often targeted with misleading credit card offers that could be a veiled attempt at identity theft or may charge exorbitant annual fees and interest rates.
Higher education students are at great risk of identity theft, but they can minimize these risks by protecting themselves and keeping their information private.
It’s important to understand the consequences of identity theft. Criminals can use personal information to build a fake identity and open new accounts or loans under a victim’s name.
Restoring credit and correcting false information can be a costly and lengthy process so it’s best to prevent it before it happens.
n Keep all personal identifiable information private.
Whether it’s in a dorm room, online, or in any social situation, keep all information and documents containing personal information private and securely guarded. Personally identifiable information is information that, when used alone or with other relevant data, can identify a person.
n Remember to always keep a close hold on social security numbers and ask why it’s needed before deciding to share it. Oftentimes organizations include the SSN request as a formality, and it may not be mandatory.
Ask if you can use a different kind of identifier.
n Personal documents, checkbooks, credit card statements and other personal papers should be always locked securely.
n When searching for and applying for student loans or other applications for financial aid, never share personal information via the phone or internet unless you have initiated contact.
n Shred pre-approved credit card offers and bills before disposing of them.
Practice Online Safety
Social media posts often reveal sensitive information unintentionally. Cybercriminals look for content that can reveal answers to security questions used to reset passwords, making accounts vulnerable to identity theft.
n Avoid downloading free music, games, or apps. Often the free apps, music and games are tainted with keystroke logging malware.
n Avoid using public WIFI/computer to shop online or pay bills.
n Monitor privacy settings on all online accounts.
n Before you get rid of your old laptop or smartphone, protect your data so it doesn’t end up in the hands of an identity thief. For tips on how to protect your data before getting rid of your devices, check Federal Trade Commission website.