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COVID-19 Scam Warning for College Students

Guest Contributor

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In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, scammers are finding new ways to trick college students out of cash or even steal their identity.

Why do scammers put so much work into perfecting their cons? Easy — because it makes them money. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), fraudsters are targeting college students, whether they’re on campus, doing distance learning, or between semesters.

COVID-19 scams often arrive as emails and can be easy to fall for. These are some of the top reported COVID-19 scams that your college student should look for, plus tips for keeping safe.

Common Types of COVID-19 Scams

Financial Department Scams

Did your student receive a letter or email from the Financial Department at the college? Not so fast! The FTC is reporting that college students are receiving fake emails of this kind and, when they enter their university user name and password to log into any linked pages they’re sent, they’re exposing their name, email address, password and other details that the scammer can use or sell for cash.

If something doesn't look quite right, it probably isn't. Contact the school directly to ask about any questionable communication you receive.

Student Loan Scams

If you receive an offer to change the interest rate of your student loans, or to take out a new student loan because of COVID-19, it's most likely a scam. If the call or email sounds legit, call the loan company directly using the phone number or email address found on their official website. 

Stimulus Check Scams

Many Americans have received their stimulus check from the government, but college students who are dependents might wonder what happened to theirs, while others might wonder whether or not they will receive a second check. Fake emails and web links may lead to malware or college students exposing their identity details.

Sextortion Scams

While this type of scam isn’t specifically dependent on COVID-19, scammers are — opportunistically — using the pandemic to target college students with sextortion scams. These occur when scammers take advantage of college-aged kids who use social platforms or dating apps while they social distance. The scammer connects with the student and then catfishes them with fake pictures and messages. Their goal? To get their victims to send them flirty or nude selfies and video in return.

The moment they do, the sextortion criminal threatens to share the risqué images with the student’s friends, family, classmates or on TikTok or Youtube… unless they are sent money and/or gift cards. This can have devastating emotional and financial consequences.

Fake Cure Scams

It’s safe to say that all of us want life to return to normal. If you’re wishing the COVID-19 virus would go away, you’re not alone. College students are falling for the same fake antibody tests, fake cures and holistic treatments as everyone else.

Make sure to check the Better Business Bureau and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) websites before you buy an online product. The only hope for a real cure is a vaccine or the development of herd immunity. Holistic treatments have not been scientifically proven to be effective against COVID-19.

How to Take Action

Recognizing scams is the first step in staying safe. The moment you or your student believe you’ve encountered a scam, take the following steps.

Stay Informed

Stay up-to-date on COVID-19n cons and scams and review warnings from the college your student attends. Share con alerts with your mailing list or on social media.

Have a Strong Support System

College students benefit from a year-round support system. COVID-19 has increased that need for support, even when students return home or complete online learning. College students should be in the habit of confiding in others through healthy communication, no matter what the challenge. Make sure that your college student has a social system in place and confides in you, friends, family or a therapist if anyone tries to dupe or con them!

Document the Con

Encourage your student to operate like a detective or attorney. They should screenshot or save any suspected fraudulent emails and forward them to their school to review and to you, then block and report any scammers on social sites. A reverse search can give them a peek into the real email sender’s identity.

Beware of Phishing Emails and Fake Hyperlinks

Fake hyperlinks are links found in emails and web pages as the URL link behind a word or phrase. Scammers place URLs for fake websites into official-looking “phishing” emails, hoping you won’t notice. College students should hover their mouse over email links to check the URL and look at the actual “Reply To” email address (not just the sender’s name, which is often faked).

Report COVID-19 Scams

Let the college know about scam or phishing emails you receive, in case they want to alert the entire student body. Also, report financial scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and request a credit freeze if personal information (SSN, driver’s license number, etc.) was breached. For sextortion scams, big financial loss or identity theft, also file a police report!

While none of us know exactly how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, using caution and being aware of scams is a best practice we can all develop and a skill we should continue to hone. 

Jennifer Donnell is a writer and social media specialist from Southern California. She writes about a range of topics involving tech news, trending topics, lifestyle & wellness, and photography. Her publishing credits include Elephant Journal, Gaia, Meet Mindful and many more. Her work has also appeared in anthologies and publications such as “Gorge.” Reach out at [email protected].
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