Pop Quiz: Are You Prepared to Pinpoint these Student Scams?

Global Citizen By Olivia Heitz September 15, 2021

Spending time in the classroom means many valuable lessons are coming your way, but make sure the hard lessons you’re learning outside of class aren’t avoidable.

Despite spending so much time on computers and the world wide web, students are frequently the target of online fraud. As pupils prepare to hit the books, they should also study these common scam tactics and be ready to react responsibly if contacted by a scammer.


Scholarship or Grant Scams:

Continuing education can often be expensive, and many students apply for scholarships as well as grants or loans to help offset some of the costs. Keep in mind that no credible scholarship organization asks for an application fee or requires a small upfront payment to receive scholarship funds. Legitimate offers will never guarantee compensation or use phrases such as “free money.”


Rental Scams:

Collegiate students can be a target of rental scams due to the nature of campus and student housing availability in college communities. If you’re looking online for an apartment or room-for-rent in a home, avoid properties that offer surprisingly low rental rates in desirable neighborhoods close to campus. Be wary of anyone who refuses to show the property prior to receiving a completed rental application or deposit, or requests payment through methods such as money transfer or pre-loaded card. Research the property management group or the landlord thoroughly before signing a lease and never send money before seeing the rental in person – even if they claim that the property is in high demand.


Online Purchase Scams:

Online purchase scams can span a variety of tactics when it comes to the needs of a student, often using fake, misrepresented, or non-existent products listed at unbelievable prices to lure you in. These methods can include counterfeit designer goods, high-tech laptops and TVs, hot concert and gameday tickets, ‘deals’ on spring break trips or even various modes of campus transportation such as vehicles or bikes. It is especially prevalent on self-service and reselling platforms. If a seller is offering an exceptionally great deal or is requesting advanced payment sight-unseen through a money transfer, it may be a scam. Also, look out for sellers wanting to interact outside the original platform; if they say they can give you a better deal emailing them directly, proceed with caution.


Social Media Scam:

From LinkedIn to Instagram, social media keeps the world and people connected. However, when users do not fully protect their profiles and accounts, it can create an opportunity for scammers to learn specific information about you, your friends, and your family for highly targeted attacks. Some scammers pose as companies wanting to do a ‘collab’ or claiming you’re the winner of a recent giveaway, looking for personal info, while others advertise fake products, or pretend to look for a relationship they can take advantage of. Avoid accounts that solely advertise giveaways, were created within the last few days, or slide into your DMs asking for personal and financial information.


Employment scams:

Fraudsters target students looking to make extra money by posing as a reputable company claiming to have flexible employment positions available. When approached with flexible job offers online, avoid clicking suspicious links in unexpected emails to help protect yourself, and never send money in advance for any type of job training, uniform or onboarding fees.

Another type of employment scam is an “easy” job offer where you would receive a commission for making bank account deposits and transfers on behalf of a third party. This is likely a money mule scheme and involves assisting criminals with illegal activities. Even if money mules are not directly involved in the crimes that generate the money (cybercrime, payment fraud, drugs, human trafficking, etc.), they are accomplices, as they launder the proceeds of such crimes. While it may seem like a simple way to make some cash in your free time, it is likely to be part of an illegal operation.


Emergency Scams:

Scammers love to prey on the panic created by an emergency, especially when a friend or relative is involved. While students and young adults are often not the target of this scam tactic, their identities can be used by scammers to trick their loved ones into believing that they may be in trouble. Remind your close friends and family that if they receive a call of this nature, they should confirm that an emergency is real before taking any action, especially sending money to anyone via a method they may have not used in the past. Agree upon a personal question to ask or a family codeword to mention in conversation, in case of an actual emergency.


Forged Documents:

A government document, whether that be an ID confirming your age or one verifying your vaccination status, may be required before entry of certain concerts, establishments, or even vacation destinations. Do not buy fake vaccine cards or IDs or attempt to make them on your own. Remember, the unauthorized use of an official government agency’s seal is a crime and may be punishable by law.



Phishing is a more general type of scam that involves unsolicited fraudulent emails or text messages. In this scenario, a scammer may attempt to imitate your school, your employer, or even a job board to gain access to a student’s personal information through fake emails. Be sure to check the email address and look for typos or grammatical errors. Hovering over the link to show the real destination before clicking any links within the email can save you from a headache down the road. Remember, you should also respond to an email asking for your SSN or your bank account numbers.


Relationship Scams:

Dating apps can be an easy way to meet other college students. With so many different apps on the market, it can be a big field for scammers to play, preying on openness and desire for a common connection, regardless of age. Keep yourself safe when swiping by making sure you never send money to someone you haven’t met in person, and always doing your research before getting invested. Remember, romance scammers will avoid meeting in person or over a video call to keep up their façade. Some may ask for money for a plane ticket, car repairs, or other travel arrangements, so if your new online flame requests that you send money be ready to protect your heart and your finances by offering another solution and refusing to directly send money or any form of payment.


Red Flags and Warning Signs to Look for:

  • “Urgent” situations pressuring you into sending money immediately
  • Asking for personal information such as SSN or banking details
  • The situation seems “too good to be true”
  • Poor grammar/misspellings in communications
  • Requesting money for situations that don’t normally warrant it

Learn to Protect Yourself from Scams

  • Trust your gut – if something seems suspicious, your instincts may be right
  • Research – The internet can be a wonderful tool; it only takes a moment to look up the company, relator, charity, or store that you’re suspicious about
  • Get a second opinion – you already ask your friends for fashion advice or notes from class, get them to weigh in on any situation that you are questioning
  • Stranger danger – Never, EVER send money to someone you have not met in person, no matter how “legitimate” their request may seem.

Scammers take advantage of well-meaning, intelligent people all the time. If you’ve sent money to someone via Western Union and suspect you’ve been scammed, report it immediately by visiting WU.com/fraudawareness.