Phone Scammers Are Targeting College Students. Here’s What You Need to Know

Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

College students are being targeted by scammers trying to trick them into giving up money and personal information, government and law enforcement officials warn. And — stressed from the threat of being dropped from courses — some are falling victim.

Students at Ferris State University in Michigan began receiving calls in August from a self-professed college official who threatened to drop them from their classes unless they immediately — by phone —  paid off their student loans, tuition or other debts to the school, USA Today reports.

The con has popped up periodically at colleges and universities in states from Montana to Georgia. Sometimes, the caller pretends to be from the FBI, spoofing an agency telephone number on the target’s caller ID. The swindler may threaten to arrest an intended victim who refuses to fork over payment through MoneyGram, Green Dot or another third-party payment system. The imposter often has just enough personal information about the people being called to sound convincing, the FBI cautions.

The agency says it never contacts consumers to demand money.

But this scam is far from the only one targeted at colleges. A student in Michigan received a text message promising to cut her student debt, so she provided her personal information and soon found unauthorized withdrawals being made from her bank account, according to the USA Today report.

Other techniques to target students include threatening to prevent them from graduating unless they pay off anything from overdue parking tickets to supposedly delinquent taxes, and callers posing as employees of the College Board selling test-prep programs or materials and asking for information such as credit or debit card numbers, dates of birth or Social Security numbers. The College Board doesn’t make unsolicited calls requesting personal information, it says.

Beware, too, of anyone who calls purporting to be from the Internal Revenue Service or offering a too-good-to-be-true scholarship, student loan, back-to-school coupon, apartment, textbook deal or job.

The FBI and the Federal Trade Commission offer these tips to protect your money and information:

  1. Be wary of unsolicited calls, texts and email.
  2. Never give out your banking, credit card or Social Security numbers, passwords or other personal information to anyone you did not initiate contact with.
  3. Be careful how much information you put online.
  4. Remember that if a deal seems too sweet to be true, it probably is.
  5. Report any suspected fraudulent communications to the Federal Trade Commission or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Susan Jacobson is an editor at The Penny Hoarder.