Beware of Back-to-School Scams
Monday, Jul 27 2020
Back-to-school season means a flurry of shopping — and a flurry of back-to-school scams. Scammers know that students and their parents are caught up in a frenzy of preparations and are, therefore, more likely to fall victim to schemes. As you get ready for school, look out for these scams targeting college students and parents of private school students.
How to Protect Yourself From Back-to-School Scams
The tuition fee scam
How it plays out: A college student, or the parent, receives a phone call from a caller introducing themself as an administrator at their school. The caller claims the student or parent owes tuition fees and will not be allowed to return to school for the coming semester unless the fees are paid. They may explain that a tuition check has bounced or that a credit card payment didn’t clear. Alternatively, the caller claims the student’s grant or scholarship was abruptly canceled and the student is now being billed for the full tuition fee.
The caller insists on being paid 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, money will never be seen again.
Protect yourself: This scam is 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 also explain that you need to see the actual bill before making any payments and that you’d like to pick up the bill yourself from the school. Finally, you can insist on calling the school directly to make the payment.
The student tax scam
How it plays out: In this scam, someone allegedly representing the IRS calls a college student at a public university and claims they neglected to pay their student tax. The caller explains that the student tax helps fund the university and that failure to pay this tax can result in disqualification from class and possible imprisonment. They will insist on immediate payment via prepaid gift card or wire transfer.
Protect yourself: You can spot this scam by remembering that the IRS will always first contact people by mail. Also, the IRS will not ask for payment through a gift card or wire transfer.
The scholarship scam
How it plays out: A scammer will reach out to a college student telling them they’ve been guaranteed approval for a scholarship or grant. The only catch is that the student must pay a hefty fee to receive it. Unfortunately, the scholarship is bogus and, if the victim falls for the scam, they will never see that money again.
Protect yourself: Student scholarships and grants are designed to help students and their parents pay for education; they don’t charge for eligibility. If an alleged scholarship claims to charge a fee before granting approval, it is most certainly a scam. Also, no company will guarantee approval for a scholarship or grant; there is always a vetting process before a decision is made. Finally, there is no reason to pay to have a FAFSA form filed; it can be completed easily 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. Beware of back-to-school scams!