Recognizing and Avoiding Scams that Target College Students

It’s not uncommon to think that most scams are directed at seniors, but this isn’t always the case. A study on millennials and fraud shows that millennials are 25% more likely to report losing money to some form of fraud than people over 40.

A different study on scammers conducted by the Better Business Bureau shows that it’s not just millennials who are highly susceptible to scams. Individuals ages 18 to 24 are the victims of 42.4% of reported scams, and individuals ages 24 to 34 are subject to 37.3% of reported scams.

These percentages are higher than those for any other age group in the study. The ages associated with the highest scam likelihood line up with the ages that most individuals go on to college. There are several reasons why scammers target college-age students, including:

These situations can be difficult to deal with on both a personal level and a financial level. The best way to avoid scams is to make sure that you and your finances are protected. When your personal information or your financial information is asked for, you should always proceed cautiously.

It’s a good idea to know what to look out for; below are some warning signs to be aware of:

  • Unusual payment request: This includes being asked to pay for things upfront, being asked what your bank details are (e.g. account, routing number, establishment), or being asked to pay for something through a money transfer service;
  • Authority: Scammers will sometimes act like banks, government agencies, academic establishments, lawyers, or police officers in order to appear authoritative and serious;
  • Urgency: Scammers will urge you into taking care of “issues” immediately and may even suggest some sort of timeline (e.g. this needs to be paid right now, or by the end of the day);
  • Secretive: Some scammers will request that you keep the information to yourself to avoid signaling others who may uncover the scam;
  • Playing on your emotions: Scams can sometimes aim to target your emotions (e.g. hope, fears, panic, empathy, curiosity);
  • Too good to be true: If the offer sounds fishy, it most likely is.

Scammers are becoming more clever, and it is important to educate yourself about the different methods that are commonly reported, and what to look for to avoid them. The information below is meant to highlight some of the scams that commonly target college students in particular.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Scams

College is expensive, and students may not have saved up enough to pay for college without financial aid or scholarships. Financial aid and scholarship scams target college-age students because they are generally the ones who are seeking out scholarships, and financial aid.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains that scammers make guarantees of scholarships, grants, and financial aid packages in exchange for a fee. College students could be more susceptible to these scams because they are currently enrolled in — or applying to — higher education institutions, but also because financial aid and scholarships are potentially new topics to them.

If you are new to higher education funding and are unsure how the different options work, you may not have extensive knowledge that would help you weed through appealing scam offers. Watch out for the following generalized warning signs:

  • Fees: When individuals ask for processing, handling, up-front, origination, or advance fees, you should avoid paying;
  • Guarantees: If an individual makes a promise that they can get you a certain amount of financial aid or scholarship/grant money, they are likely a scammer. Financial aid and scholarships don’t work like that;
  • Pre-approval: If “pre-approval” is ever mentioned, you can be sure that you are conversing with a scammer since this is not how the process works;
  • Purchases: Financial aid will never require you to make a purchase. If you are being asked to purchase something in order to be considered for financial aid, it is a scam;
  • Expert: If someone makes a claim that “only experts would understand” it is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

In order to avoid financial aid and scholarship scams, you need to understand how these two educational funding options work, and what scams are out there. Below are various examples of financial aid and scholarship scams that target college students.

Student Financial Services Scam

Student financial services help provide future and current students with information like ways to pay for school and how to apply for financial aid. In student financial services fraud, the scammers contact students via telephone, mail, or email with some too-good-to-be-true offers like “help filling out financial aid documentation” or “special grant applications.” Once they have the student convinced, they ask you to provide personal information or to pay a fee upfront in order to secure the service.

Student financial services do not cost money. They are provided through a collegiate organization for both current students, prospective students, as well as past students. If you are asked to pay money or give information, you should automatically become hesitant. Look up the number for the college or university in question, and verify whether the offer is real or not.

Unpaid Tuition Scam

With an unpaid tuition scam, scammers reach out to students directly, or they contact the students’ parents in order to convince them that there is a remaining balance on the student’s account that needs to be paid immediately so that the student’s enrollment isn’t affected.

The best way to discover whether this is true is to call your school’s billing or registrar department. They will ask several questions to verify your identity, then provide an overview of what your account looks like. You can also access this information online by using your student account.

You should be aware that most billing-related information will be sent to you via mail. Billing-related issues will be directed to the student, not the parents. If you have received this call as a parent, reach out to your child and have them determine whether or not the information was true or not.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that allows students to apply for financial aid to help pay for college. You provide a variety of information that helps determine whether you qualify. If you qualify, then you may be eligible for grants, work-study programs, and student loans.

There are four common FAFSA scams to be aware of:

  1. Fee to submit: As the name explicitly says, the first “F” in “FAFSA” stands for free. You can apply online at and it won’t cost a thing. Be wary of fake sites that require a payment to submit;
  2. “On behalf of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE)”: The FAFSA is facilitated by the Federal Student Aid (FSA) department of the DOE. Someone from the FSA will contact you regarding any pertinent FAFSA information, not the DOE. A scammer may attempt to get banking information by saying you need payment to receive financial aid, or that you have won some sort of contest or financial aid package;
  3. Financial aid seminars: Scammers use students and parents who are confused about certain aspects of financial aid as a way to receive payment for services that you can get for free. Financial aid information is generally offered for free through colleges and universities (as well as high school guidance counselors), so reach out to them to help avoid getting into these situations.
  4. Exclusive financial aid: The FAFSA is free to submit, and so scammers look to offer their “expertise” in order to secure the most financial aid or exclusive scholarship offerings. However, financial aid is based on your financial situation and perceived need; scholarships are offered by schools or organizations and are not connected to the FAFSA.

To help avoid FAFSA scams, talk to an academic advisor if you are stuck. Remember that the FAFSA is always free and that they will never need your banking information. Avoid financial aid seminars unless they are advertised by your academic institution, and be wary of “exclusive” or “special” offers. Lastly, never give out your FAFSA ID, or account information.

Federal Student Tax Scam

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning consumers about the federal student tax scam going around. Scammers are impersonating IRS workers in order to demand a federal student tax that doesn’t exist. They are asking students or recent graduates to send money via wire transfer, MoneyGram, or other untraceable money transfer methods. If the individual hesitates or says they aren’t going to pay, the scammer claims that they will be reported to the police.

One of the best ways to avoid this scam — as well as any other tax scam — is to research taxation to gain insight into how taxes work and what we are taxed on. The IRS does not contact taxpayers via phone. They also do not request immediate payments of taxes or back taxes, nor do they threaten taxpayers if they don’t pay.

Scholarship Scams

Scholarship scams target students by charging them to apply for a scholarship, or through other fraudulent guarantees. There are endless amounts of scholarships, so navigating what is real, and what is fake can prove difficult. Some of the phrases to watch out for include things like:

  • “Guaranteed or your money back”: Scholarships are never guaranteed, and they will never cost you money;
  • “You’ve been selected”: You are selected for a scholarship once you have applied. A scholarship opportunity will only come to those who are actively seeking it out — not in an email, ad, or phone call. Any claim saying you are selected to receive a scholarship for which you did not apply should raise red flags;
  • “It will cost ___”: As mentioned above, scholarships do not cost money to apply for;
  • “Exclusive access”: While scholarships may have certain applicant criteria, a scholarship will never be something that is exclusively offered. There is no secret database of scholarships, all information on scholarships should be available online;
  • “We’ll do the work for you”: You gain scholarships through your own efforts. Individuals who claim to fill out applications or find scholarships for you are trying to scam you;
  • “Act now”: While scholarships generally have submission deadlines, no one will contact you and tell you to act now in regards to a scholarship;
  • “You just need to attend our scholarship seminar”: You should never have to attend a seminar in order to receive a scholarship, or apply for a scholarship.

The more you know about scholarships and how they function, the better equipped you are to avoid scams. This could be as simple as knowing the difference between grants and scholarships, or as complex as knowing the specifics surrounding scholarships for undocumented students.

The best way to avoid scholarship scams is to work with your guidance counselor to find legitimate opportunities. You can even search for scholarships online, then research the scholarship prior to applying.

Student Loan Scams

Student loan scams are so prevalent because today, around 70% of American students need to take out student loans to go to college. Additionally, student loan statistics show that young college graduates with student loans report financial struggles due to their student loans. Their financial struggle may make them more of a target for different scams or fraudulent activity.

Student loans can also be a prime breeding ground for all sorts of scams since many individuals are unsure just how student loans work or specifically how paying back student loans works. The best way to avoid student loan scams is to avoid taking out any loans, but this is not always possible for everyone. Student loan scams vary in their fraudulent attempts, but below are some generalized warning signs to watch out for:

  • Upfront fees, or monthly fees for a service or offer;
  • Immediate relief or forgiveness;
  • Guarantees;
  • Asking for sensitive personal information;
  • Finding an offer through an ad.

The best way to avoid student loan scams is to understand what types are out there and what they entail. Below is a list of common student loan scams to become aware of.

Advance Fee Loans

Scammers will contact you saying that they are managing or servicing your loans. They claim that the service is necessary or mandatory in order to get better rates or terms, but they require some form of fee. The scammer may offer to reduce your interest rate, extend your loan term, consolidate your loans, or apply for loan forgiveness.

The best way to avoid this type of scam is to understand how your loans work, and what free services are available to you. The Department of Education, or a loan servicer, will never ask for any sort of fee outside of your monthly loan and interest payment, and if you are late, possibly a late fee.

You can navigate your borrower information, repayment plan options, and loan consolidation by contacting your student loan servicer. Student loan servicers are appointed to you, and common student loan servicers include FedLoan, Great Lakes, Navient, and Nelnet.

If you are unsure whether the student loan servicer you are communicating with is a scammer or your real servicer, research the servicer’s contact information online and compare it with the information of the person you are talking with.

Debt Relief Scams

As mentioned above, millions are struggling with student loan debt that puts them in uncomfortable financial situations. Debt relief is a real possibility for those with dangerous amounts of debt, but scammers are offering fake debt relief “opportunities” for a price.

Debt relief scams function by scammers offering to negotiate with creditors to lower or pay off the loans that are owed. They offer to provide this service for an upfront fee of some amount, and then they never follow through once they have received payment — leaving the debtor in an even poorer financial situation. Be wary of the following debt relief scam warning signs:

  • Guarantees: Any guarantee should raise red flags. Even though debt relief is possible, even legitimate companies cannot make any promises or guarantees;
  • Any fees: Debt relief programs will never charge upfront fees. Being asked for payment upfront is a tell-tale sign of a scam;
  • Asking for information: If you did not seek out the debt relief help, and the individual starts off by asking for personal information, this should raise red flags;
  • Aggressive tactics: If the individual you are communicating with puts a timeline on their help/offer, or indicates any form of high-pressure tactics, you should be hesitant. There is no timeline for debt relief.

Although legitimate debt-relief programs will reach out from time to time, the best way to avoid these types of scams is to research programs yourself and gain insight into debt management. This should include how to budget, a variety of good methods for paying back debt, and even specific things like what to do about defaulting on a student loan.

Loan Consolidation Scams

Student loan debt consolidation involves combining all of your individual loans into one large loan. This is different from credit repair in that you aren’t negotiating your credit, rather, you are turning multiple monthly payments into one single, convenient payment with one interest rate.

Anyone is able to do this, even individuals with bad credit. This also creates another opportunity for impersonators to scam individuals out of their money with fake promises of loan consolidation. Below are some red flags to be aware of for loan consolidations scams:

  • Upfront fees for loan consolidation should immediately raise red flags. Federal student loan consolidation should never cost a penny, and legitimate services would never ask for money upfront;
  • Pushy tactics that encourage urgency. This is a complex process, and legitimate companies will never pressure you to make a decision based on a timeline;
  • If you are asked to cease contact with your creditors, or if you are told to stop paying your bills, you should be apprehensive;
  • If the individual or company is not being transparent about their information, this is a tell-tale sign of fraud;
  • If the company makes promises or guarantees about lowering your debt amount, be wary. Consolidation doesn’t affect how much you owe, just how many payments you have to make monthly.

You can avoid scams by doing your own research on how loan consolidation works. Research different loan servicing companies that offer loan consolidation, ask questions, and shop around to compare offers. It’s also a good idea to take a look at all of your individual loans and pay off any smaller, more manageable loans that may have a higher interest rate. Lastly, make sure you get everything in writing.

Loan Forgiveness Scams

Student loan forgiveness — also called student loan cancellation or discharge — means that you are no longer responsible to repay a portion or all of your student loans. There are certain types of loan forgiveness to be aware of that only certain demographics qualify for — these include:

Additionally, some employers may offer student loan forgiveness as a part of your salary or benefits.

Those with large amounts of debt are always looking for ways to get rid of student loan debt, and this provides a viable space for loan forgiveness scams. Scammers will create unique offers to eliminate your debt for some reason such as attending a certain college or living in a certain area.

You should watch out for the following:

  • “Immediate” claims: Loan forgiveness is not immediate, it takes time. Anyone claiming that the debt will be repaid instantaneously is a scammer;
  • Asking for payment: Loan forgiveness requires a trade-off (e.g. working in an impoverished area, becoming a healthcare worker, joining the military). Loan forgiveness is never something you pay for;
  • Eligibility reasoning: Pay close attention to the reasoning regarding why you are eligible. If it doesn’t match any of the programs above, or if the offer isn’t from your employer, there’s a good chance that it is not real.

Again, the best way to avoid these scams is to educate yourself on how student loans work, and who/what qualifies for student loan forgiveness. Applications to receive student loan forgiveness should never cost money, and not everyone qualifies for loan forgiveness — regardless of financial situation.

Credit Card Scams

According to the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network, there were 54,150 reports of credit card fraud in 2019 — nearly 2% of all of the fraud reported that year. As mentioned earlier, college-age individuals make up the biggest percentage of individuals affected by scams and this could be due to their lack of financial knowledge and experience with credit cards.

The FBI provides the following generalized tips for avoiding credit card fraud:

  • “Don’t give out your credit card number online unless the site is secure and reputable. Sometimes a tiny icon of a padlock appears to symbolize a higher level of security to transmit data. This icon is not a guarantee of a secure site, but provides some assurance”;
  • “Don’t trust a site just because it claims to be secure”;
  • “Before using the site, check out the security/encryption software it uses”;
  • “Make sure you are purchasing merchandise from a reputable source”;
  • “Do your homework on the individual or company to ensure that they are legitimate”;
  • “Obtain a physical address rather than simply a post office box and a telephone number, and call the seller to see if the telephone number is correct and working”;
  • “Send an email to the seller to make sure the email address is active, and be wary of those that utilize free email services where a credit card wasn’t required to open the account”;
  • “Consider not purchasing from sellers who won’t provide you with this type of information”;
  • “Check with the Better Business Bureau from the seller’s area”;
  • “Check out other websites regarding this person/company”;
  • “Don’t judge a person or company by their website; flashy websites can be set up quickly”;
  • “Be cautious when responding to special investment offers, especially through unsolicited e-mail”;
  • “Be cautious when dealing with individuals/companies from outside your own country”;
  • “If possible, purchase items online using your credit card. You can often dispute the charges if something goes wrong”;
  • “Make sure the transaction is secure when you electronically send your credit card number”;
  • “Keep a list of all your credit cards and account information along with the card issuer’s contact information. If anything looks suspicious or you lose your credit card(s), contact the card issuer immediately.”

It is important to note that learning about credit cards, proper usage, favorable versus unfavorable terms, and common credit card fraud can better prepare individuals to avoid credit card scams. Even simply learning about good secured credit cards for students can aid in keeping your credit card secure by providing a safe, simple introduction to credit. The information below is meant to provide college students insight into different credit card scams.

Predatory Credit Cards

Predatory lending is an attempt made by lenders to take advantage of borrowers. In this scam, the lender convinces the borrower to enter into an agreement that benefits the lender and is a misfortune for the borrower. Examples of this could include high interest rates, unreasonably long terms with early payoff fees. Below are some examples of predatory lending practices to be aware of if you receive a predatory credit card or loan:

  • Rushing: If you are being hurried and left without key details, you should always have the option to slow down. If the lender steers away from certain questions, or won’t let you think about things, it could be an indication of predatory lending;
  • Unlicensed loan officers: Licensed loan officers understand the ethics of loans and professional composure;
  • High fees and rates: Predatory lenders are concerned with getting you signed up, not your ability to repay the loan. Be wary of high fees and unfavorable rates;
  • Blank space: Blank spaces on applications and contracts allow for predatory lenders to change terms.

The best way to avoid this is to understand what to look for when choosing a credit card, and to research consumer rights and credit laws.

Credit Repair Scams

If you have bad credit, you may be more at risk for credit repair scams. College students are popular targets because they may be looking for credit repair options after defaulting on student loans. Below are some examples of credit repair scams:

  • Credit privacy numbers: These are fraudulent numbers that are sold to consumers looking to apply for a loan or credit card without using their Social Security number — but they don’t exist;
  • File segregation schemes: Scammers claim to have the ability to create new consumer credit files through an application that costs money;
  • Tradeline renting: This is similar to becoming an authorized user, but through a third party that has disreputable, fraudulent terms.

One of the easiest ways to avoid and identify credit repair scams is to research the best credit repair companies that are legitimate or study up on how to repair credit on your own.

Employment Scams

Working a job during college can be stressful enough for any student to balance with school, let alone trying to find legitimate work and avoiding all of the fake offers. Employment scammers try to take advantage of job seekers by creating a fake job and company with a plan to receive money upfront from the job seeker or, they’ll try to get you to provide sensitive personal information like your Social Security number, banking number, and other information for identity theft.

Below are examples of some job scams to watch out for and different ways to identify a fake job offer:

  • Email offers: If a company that you don’t remember applying to sends a random offer to you, you should be hesitant — especially if you confirm there was no contact prior to the offer;
  • Too good to be true: Jobs come with perks and benefits, but if the offer is perfect in all aspects, you should question whether or not it’s unrealistic. For example, working two days a week from home while making six figures should raise red flags;
  • No interview: Getting hired without a formal interview should raise some concerns;
  • Vague job description: If there is a vague description (or no description) especially surrounding requirements, proceed with caution;
  • Unprofessional conduct: Any unprofessional conduct (e.g. grammar/spelling errors, informal language, texting, rude interactions) should raise worry;
  • Asking for personal information: While giving your name and educational background is normal, there is no reason for a company to ask for banking information or a Social Security number right off the bat;
  • Fees: Unless you are being asked to purchase certain equipment for the job, you should never be asked to pay for anything to obtain a job — this includes background checks or application fees.

With the rise of the internet changing how the world is, there are more and more ways to earn money online every day. Remote work is becoming more popular and this creates another opportunity for scammers to take advantage of desperate job-seekers.

Be careful when searching for online jobs and use the warning signs above to analyze jobs that may seem a little peculiar to protect yourself from identity theft or losses. Remember to research the company. Look for a physical address, and make sure the contact information online matches the email or phone number that you are communicating through. If you can’t find anything, search the business for their Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating.

Roommate, Housing, and Moving Scams

There are a variety of housing-related scams to become aware of; 5.2 million U.S. renters have lost money from some form of rental fraud. College students who are at risk often need help finding housing and moving into a house. Additionally, it can be hard to live independently while going to school, so you may also need help finding roommates. These three aspects create the perfect zone for scams. If you are moving to a new area for college, you may be even more at-risk.

Below are some examples of the different housing-related scams to make yourself aware of.

Fake Housing or Roommate

Scammers will create a fake home or rental opportunity on a housing platform (e.g. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace). In some cases, they advertise a property that they do not own or have the rights to rent, and sometimes the housing itself may not even exist. Some red flags to be aware of when finding housing or a roommate online are:

  • Unreasonably low prices;
  • Not mentioning the address, or addresses that are invalid;
  • Multiple duplicate listings from different people, or in different cities;
  • Inability to see the apartment in person;
  • Lack of photos;
  • The listing has some form of a personal story (e.g. we have to move because of ___, trying to lease ASAP because of a death);
  • Specific payment requests such as a wire transfer, money order, prepaid VISA, MoneyGram, or through Western Union;
  • Abnormally large security deposit.

Some of the best ways to avoid fake housing or roommate scams are to avoid sending any money until you have seen the house or the roommate. Avoid trusting your roommate as an authorized user on your card. Use reputable housing apps. Lastly, get everything in writing. Don’t make hand-shake deals, or sign contracts with any blank spaces.

Nonexistent Movers Scam

Moving scams involve fake moving companies that make appealing offers with no intent to actually move. College students — especially those going to a college in a new area — need movers, and this creates a perfect opportunity for a scam. The specifics of the movers’ scam will vary, but below are examples of common moving scams to watch out for:

  • Generic greetings, or business names like “moving company”;
  • Cost estimates without coming to see what they are moving;
  • Quick bids without full-walkthroughs;
  • New companies or companies without any reviews;
  • Large deposits prior to moving;
  • Extremely low prices compared to others;
  • Unreasonable packing fees;
  • Blank contract space;
  • Avoiding written documentation;
  • No insurance or protection offers;
  • No mention of company liability;
  • No truck parking location, or headquarters.

Take the tips into consideration above, but the best ways to avoid moving scams include:

  • Looking for online reviews;
  • Word-of-mouth recommendations;
  • Rent a moving truck and do it yourself;
  • Avoid paying upfront if possible.

Textbook and School Supply Scams

There are scams that target individuals looking for books — whether they’re teachers, individuals reading for pleasure, or college students looking for textbooks. Scammers will send invoices for books that they do not even have in order to swindle consumers into sending them money. They may offer better pricing, free shipping, or some other aspect that makes their offering seem appealing, then never deliver the products.

Avoid these types of scams by practicing safe online shopping, researching who you purchase your books through, avoiding third-party payment methods such as Venmo, renting books through the library, and purchasing your books through your school’s bookstore.

Phone, Internet, and Social Media Scams

Technology is important throughout daily life, and with such a prominent role in everyday life, there are also a variety of new opportunities for technology scams that arise. Since technology is a large part of the lives of college students (e.g. studying, online classes, communication) they are potentially at risk for such scams.

These scams can be conducted via phone, internet, or specifically through social media, so be aware of all types of technology. Most of these types of scams are imposter scams like tech-support scams, romance scams, identity-theft cyber scams, family emergency scams, IRS imposter scams, and swindles related to current events such as coronavirus scams.

The information below is meant to provide information on phone, internet, and social media scams that may target college students.

Federal Grant Phone Scam

A federal grant scam will begin with an individual reaching out to you via phone to let you know that you have been awarded, or chosen to receive, federal grant money. The scammer will either ask for payment for their services, or they will try to obtain various personal information. Here are some tips and things to keep in mind to help try and avoid this type of scam:

  • Grant money is applied for, never something that is given randomly;
  • Avoid giving out any personal information. If you are being awarded a grant, you have applied already, and they have all the personal information necessary;
  • Ask the individual you are in contact with where they work, and who they work for. Perform some research and be sure you are talking to someone who is legitimate;
  • Research the grant being offered to you for legitimacy.

FBI Phone Scam

Scammers are posing as FBI employees making a claim to their victims that they owe the government a large sum of money. They may claim they owe the money for a variety of reasons like missing jury duty, unpaid tickets, outstanding utility balances, or that they have a warrant out for their arrest.

Another FBI phone scam impersonates government officials and claims that their Social Security number has been compromised, or their SSN has been used to open bank accounts. The FBI warns of scammers and reminds the public that the FBI never calls private citizens to request money, or threaten arrest. According to the FBI, you should attend to the following to avoid becoming the victim of a scam:

  • “Always be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls”;
  • “Never give money or personal information to someone with whom you don’t have ties and did not initiate contact”;
  • “Before signing up for a contest or email distribution list, make sure the business has a policy not to share your information or sell it to a third party”;
  • “Scammers count on your lack of knowledge, so take the time to educate yourself about any offer you receive”;
  • “Trust your instincts: if an unknown caller makes you uncomfortable or says things that don’t sound right, hang up.”

Public Wi-Fi Scams

Public Wi-Fi scams target individuals using free Wi-Fi on an unsecured, shared network. These are often offered in public areas like libraries, coffee shops, and restaurants for customer use, but unfortunately, hackers can steal information from individuals on these networks by cracking into the network and accessing user data.

College students are using technology and Wi-Fi constantly, putting them at risk for such a scam. Use the following tips to help you avoid this type of scam:

  • Avoid unsecured, shared networks whenever possible. Browse at home whenever possible;
  • If you rely on free Wi-Fi, install a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your information;
  • When you are out and about, turn off your Wi-Fi, or change your connection settings to avoid automatically connecting to unsecured free Wi-Fi.

Fake Universities

College degree scams take advantage of individuals looking to earn a degree. The state of online education and its growth creates an ideal breeding ground for scammers. Most of these scams offer some sort of degree for a flat fee that requires minimal or no course work or time. This is called a diploma mill. The following are considered signs of college degree scams, or diploma mills:

  • “No studies, no exams, no interaction”;
  • “Get a degree for your life experience”;
  • Flat fee;
  • “No waiting”;
  • Lack of contact or program information;
  • Aggressive sales/advertising tactics.

The best way to avoid these types of scams is to do your research. If you are looking to earn a degree, find the school yourself and be sure that the program is accredited.

High School Diploma Scams

High school diploma scams target individuals looking to obtain their diploma. These types of scams function by tricking consumers into purchasing a diploma that is not real. Diploma requirements vary from state to state, so this nuance provides an ideal opportunity for scammers to take advantage of students — especially those who need their diploma to apply to college. Below are signs of this type of scam:

  • “Obtain diploma from home” offers: Legitimate programs take time, and they are only offered during specific times, not conveniently at any time from home;
  • Paying any sum of money: Getting your physical diploma should not cost any money. The classes or proctored testing may cost money, but the diploma should not;
  • Claims to be affiliated with the federal government: Testing and programs are taken care of at the state level;
  • Special GED testing from home: Testing is administered in person through a proctored testing center. It is a closed book test and it is generally only offered at specific times.

Phishing Emails

Phishing scams use a variety of techniques to trick individuals into offering personal information up to scammers. Phishing emails are common, but you may also experience phishing attempts via text message, social media, and other forms.

Phishing attempts look like they are coming from a company that you know and trust. According to the FTC, scammers make bold claims, or concerning messages that draw individuals in — like:

  • Noticing “some suspicious activity or log-in attempts”;
  • Claiming “there’s a problem with your account or your payment information”;
  • Saying “you must confirm some personal information”;
  • Creating a fake invoice;
  • Asking you to “click on a link to make a payment”;
  • Claiming that “you’re eligible to register for a government refund”;
  • Offering “a coupon for free stuff.”

The best way to avoid phishing scams is to use security software, keep your phone up to date, use multi-factor authentication, back up your data, and analyze unsolicited emails.

Freebie Scam

College students struggle with a variety of financial crises, so free offerings sound appealing. Many scammers are using “freebie” offerings that end up being costly. These scams are often advertisements on the internet, or sometimes you might be contacted via phone or email. Below are some signs of freebie scams:

  • Freebies that have some sort of payment requirement;
  • Too-good-to-be-true offers;
  • Offerings from unofficial websites (e.g. “Free iPhones” from a website other than  Apple or a cell-phone service provider ).

In order to prevent yourself from falling for one of these scams, avoid clicking on “free” advertisement popups, research the company who is offering the “freebie,” and never pay for something advertised as a “freebie.”


Some scammers may find personal information online and use that information to their benefit. How it functions is that scammers take the information and approach the individual, threatening to expose potentially harmful or embarrassing information to people they know. In an attempt to keep that information private, individuals are often willing to pay scammers what they ask for.

Below are tips for avoiding this type of scam:

  • Update your passwords frequently and make them difficult to hack (e.g. use numbers, letters, capitalization, symbols);
  • Whenever possible, use two-factor authentication;
  • Keep your social media profiles private and avoid adding individuals who you do not know personally;
  • Avoid all emails from unknown sources;
  • Lastly, do not put anything onto the internet that you don’t want certain people knowing about.

Resources for Students Who Have Been Impacted by Scams

If you have fallen victim to a scam, there are certain things that you should do. It may feel embarrassing to admit, but you shouldn’t feel bad for falling for a scam. The resources below are places to report scams, sources for information on scams, and organizations designed to protect individuals from scams.

  • BBB Scam Tracker: You can report scams, and look for insight on if others have experienced similar situations to yours;
  • Find my AG: This helps you find the attorney general in your state. According to the National Association of Attorneys General, an attorney general “ serves as the chief legal officer in their jurisdiction, counsels its government agencies and legislatures, and is a representative of the public interest”;
  • FTC Fraud Reporter: The FTC gathers information surrounding fraud so that they can provide information to other consumers to help avoid anyone else falling for the same scam;
  • What-To-Do List: The FTC provides a list of things that you should do (in order) after you have fallen victim to a scam;
  • IRS Alerts: The IRS provides a listicle of different consumer alerts and tax scams to read up on;
  • Federal Student Aid Alerts: The DOE provides a list of student aid-specific scams to be aware of, and tips for avoiding scams;
  • This site has a variety of information on prevalent scams, and there is a section where you can report any scams or fraudulent activities.
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