Beware common scams that target college students in Texas

Special to the E-T

During this time of the year, college students prepare for the upcoming semester and budget for school supplies, tuition, transportation, and living expenses.

Better Business Bureau

According to the National Retail Federation, households with a college student can expect to spend an average of $1,200 on back-to-school shopping for the 2021 school year.

According to BBB’s 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report, adults ages 18-24 reported the highest median losses ($150) to scams, many of which take place online. College and university students in Texas have reported over $109,000 lost to scams this year, with the top three most-reported scams being online purchasing scams, employment scams and phishing scams.

In June 2021, a student in Austin reported an employment scam found through a job posting on social media that claimed to pay $25 per hour and was a work from home position for the World Health Organization. After passing a short prescreening interview, the "employer" directed the student to download the Hangouts app, where all communication with the supervisor would take place. The supervisor asked for a credit card number for their file and the applicant's bank account number, routing number, and name on the account so $35,000 could be deposited for the applicant to purchase work equipment. According to the report, the scammer sent pictures of other people holding deposit receipts showing the $35,000 deposited to their bank accounts. When the scammer insisted on using a particular bank, the student ended the conversation and deleted the Hangouts app.

“It is not uncommon for scammers to disguise themselves as legitimate companies or organizations when trying to convince a victim to divulge personal information,” said Heather Massey, vice president of communications for Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas. “It is important to exercise caution when interacting with potential employers and remain skeptical of high-paying, flexible work positions that seem too good to be true.”

Whether you are a student starting school away from home or have young students who may be vulnerable to such scams, BBB recommends watching out for these financial scams before heading into the new semester.

• Fake credit cards. Offers to apply for their first credit card are tempting to many students as they navigate the financial obligations of attending a higher education institution. However, unchecked spending on credit cards may create financial difficulties down the road, and some of the offered deals may be designed to access personal information. Spend the time to research the offers from credit card flyers as well as banking institutions before applying. Visit BBB.org for more tips on how to identify and avoid credit card scams.

• Fraudulent apartment listings. When searching for apartments, it is difficult not to jump at an opportunity to live in an apartment close to campus, especially if it advertises affordable rent. If the apartment requires a credit card or banking information to “reserve” or “lock-in” the unit, BBB strongly recommends seeing the apartment in person before transferring any money. Much like other scams, if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. These tips also apply to online ads for those who are seeking roommates or taking over a lease.

• Scholarship and grant scams. Be wary of phone calls from companies that “guarantee” you will receive a scholarship or grant money if you use their services. Spend the time to research the company and contact the school’s financial aid office for advice on financing your education. Scholarship scams can affect college graduates for years after they’ve completed their degree and may increase the likelihood of becoming a victim of identity theft. Visit BBB.org for more tips on how to identify and avoid scholarship scams.

• Online purchasing scams. According to BBB’s 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report, online purchasing scams were the #1 most-reported scam impacting 18–25-year-old consumers in the U.S., especially through social media platforms and apps. BBB recommends purchasing items online with a credit card whenever possible due to the additional protections they offer to remove charges for services or goods that are never rendered or received.

For more information about how to avoid identity theft on campus, visit BBB.org.

If you have been a victim of a scam, report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Information provided could prevent another person from falling victim.