How to Avoid Scams: Tips for College Students

College students are often targeted by financial scammers. Protect yourself and your finances by learning how to avoid scams.

As a college student, you may be managing your finances on your own for the first time. For that reason, you might be an alluring target for financial scammers. In fact, a Better Business Bureau study found students who fell victim to a scam had a 42 percent chance of losing money, compared with just 28 percent of nonstudents.

While fraudsters may view you as a vulnerable target, educating yourself about common fraud tactics and taking a few safety precautions may allow you to protect yourself against financial scams.

Scams Targeting College Students

Criminals have several different schemes, but one particular check-cashing scam seems to be growing in prevalence. Today, millennials are 93 percent more likely than people over age 40 to report losing money to fake check scams, which are often veiled as a way to earn money, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Here’s how this scam may occur: A stranger may approach you — either in person, on campus, or online via social media sites like Instagram — and ask you to help them cash a check. This person may claim they don’t have access to a checking account, so they ask if they can use your account to cash the check instead. In exchange, they might promise to give you a share of the cash.

After agreeing to cash the check on their behalf or handing over your login information, you may not see immediate consequences. A few days later, however, you would likely receive notice from your bank that you’ve cashed a fraudulent check and, as a result, the amount has been deducted from your account. By then, the criminal would be long gone, leaving you with a depleted bank account and little recourse to recover the stolen funds.

Other common scams targeting college students include payment app scams, bogus credit card offers, fake apartment rentals, and identity theft related to financial aid applications.

Although the risk of falling victim to a financial scam may feel unnerving, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your bank account. Start with these tips:

Don’t cash another person’s check.

Never agree to cash a check on behalf of someone else — especially someone you don’t know. There is no legitimate reason that a stranger would pay you to deposit their check, especially when check cashing services exist. Remember, sometimes the funds from a check are made available to you before they are collected. If the check is returned NSF or fictitious, you will be responsible for returning the funds to the bank.

Remain skeptical.

Whether someone offers you money for a simple task or you’ve found an available apartment that’s going for significantly below market rates, take a moment to ask yourself whether the scenario adds up. If your common sense tells you that it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Safeguard your information.

Don’t share your bank account information with others — online or in person. Sharing your login information allows others the access they need to drain your account at any time. If a sudden opportunity requires personal information such as your Social Security number, bank information, your payment app username (such as your $Cashtag), or even college ID information, consider it a red flag signaling that you may be dealing with a scammer.

In addition to keeping your personal information private, you should also change your password and PIN occasionally. Make sure that your computer, cellphone, and any other devices are password-protected and consider using a password manager to help keep track of your accounts and passwords. Further, be sure to store any physical copies of important documents in a safe place.

Monitor your financial accounts closely

By regularly checking your account balances, you may be able to notice quickly any large changes in your balance or other unusual activity that might be a sign of fraud. You can also sign up for financial alerts from your bank or credit card issuer, which will notify you instantly anytime a large transaction occurs.

You should also check your credit report every year to keep an eye out for new accounts in your name or anything else that appears irregular.

If you believe you’ve been approached by a financial fraudster, report the incident to the authorities. In addition to contacting the FTC, you should also contact the local police, your bank, and your university about the potential scam so that they can alert other students. Be prepared to share detailed information about how the incident occurred.

For more tips to help you protect your money, visit


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