Back-to-school season means a flurry of shopping — and a flurry of scams. Scammers know that students and their parents are busy with preparations and errands. This makes them more likely to fall for schemes. As you get ready for school, look out for these scams targeting college students and parents that tend to peak before the start of the school year.
The tuition fee scam
How it plays out:
A college student, or their parent, receives a phone call from a person introducing himself as a secretary or administrator at their school. The caller claims the student or parent owes tuition fees, and cannot return to school until they pay the fees. Then they may explain that a tuition check has bounced or that a credit card payment didn’t clear. Alternatively, the caller claims they canceled the student’s grant or scholarship and the student is now responsible for the full tuition fee.
The caller insists that the student pay the outstanding sum immediately or the student will lose their spot in the school. The “secretary” or “administrator” provides the victim with detailed information for wiring money or dropping off the cash at a private address. Of course, once you send the money, it’s gone.
These scams are easy to spot because most schools will not insist on immediate payment or payment through a wire transfer. If you receive a call like the one described above, ask the caller detailed questions about the school, their position, and the money owed. If it’s a scam, the caller will not be able to answer well. You can ask to see the bill before making any payments or to pick up the bill from the school. Finally, you can insist on calling the school directly to make the payment.
Student tax scams
How it plays out:
In these scams, someone allegedly representing the IRS calls a student and claims they neglected to pay their student tax. The caller will explain that the student tax helps fund the university if the student does not pay they will be disqualification from class and possible imprisonment. They will insist also on immediate payment via prepaid gift card or wire transfer.
You can spot this scam by remembering that the IRS will always first contact people by mail. Also, the IRS won’t insist on payment via a gift card or wire transfer.
How it plays out:
When scammer reaches out to a college student, they tell them they are guaranteed approval for a scholarship or grant. The only catch is that the student must pay a hefty fee to receive it. Unfortunately, if the victim falls for the scam, they will never see that money again. In a similar scholarship scam, a victim has to pay a fee to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Of course, they do not file a FAFSA form, and the money will go directly into the scammer’s pockets.
Student scholarships and grants help students and their parents pay for education; they don’t charge for eligibility. If there is an alleged claim to charge a fee before approval, it is most certainly a scam. Also, no company will guarantee a scholarship or grant; there is a vetting process before eligibility is determined. Finally, there is no reason to pay to have a FAFSA form filed; it can be completed online here. For additional help, college students can contact the financial aid office at their university.
Scammers are out in full force before the start of the school year. Don’t let them make the grade! Stay alert and stay safe.
Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a back-to-school scam? Tell us about it in the comments.
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