With college season back in full-swing, it is important for student loan borrowers to be aware of the many scams that exist.
Growing tuition costs and high levels of student loan debt are all concerns facing new and seasoned college students. And increasingly, students are falling victims to scam artists that want to prey on these fears.
In mid-August, students at Ferris State University started receiving alarming phone calls from an individual who claimed to work at their college, USA Today reported. The students were told they had to pay off any outstanding debt they owed Ferris State immediately. Payments had to be made over the phone or the student would be dropped from their classes immediately.
These types of schemes are becoming more commonplace, Anne Wohlfert, Michigan's acting deputy state treasurer, told USA Today. She said scam artists are more sophisticated now so when they contact unsuspecting students, the interaction seems legitimate.
"They can send you a text message on your cell phone and they can make it look like it's official," Wohlfert added.
And scam artists will often play to a borrower’s desperation to pay back their student loan debt. One Michigan student received a text message about an easy way to reduce her student loan debt. She gave the company some of her personal information and discovered months later they had automatically withdrawn funds from her account every month, none of which was applied to her student loan debt. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently offered some tips on how to spot a student loan assistance scam.
Another popular hoax is when scam artists contact students and pretend to work for the IRS. They tell the student they owe a “Federal Student Tax” which must be paid with an iTunes gift card.
Many students choose to purchase their textbooks online in hopes to save a little money. But according to the Better Business Bureau, many students have lost money doing this. For that reason, the BBB advises all students to research any companies they are considering buying textbooks from.
College students are especially vulnerable in the days and weeks leading up to the start of a new semester. Many are stressed about starting school again and might not be as quick to question the legitimacy of the scammer’s claims.
Wohlfert, who has a stepson in college, said it’s important for parents to talk to their college-aged children about these “back-to-school” scams. And though scam artists are becoming more creative in their approaches, there are warning signs students can look out for.
For instance, colleges will never ask students to make tuition payments over the phone. Payments must be made in person or through a secure online portal. Likewise, the IRS will never request an iTunes gift card as a form of payment.
And students should always be suspicious if they are contacted by someone who demands access to credit card information or their Social Security numbers. When in doubt, always do a little research first to see if the caller is telling the truth.