Fraudsters Find Success Scamming College Students

by Mindy Kubs | April 2019

FraudCollege students are easy prey for fraudsters. Most of these young adults are away from parental supervision for the first time and, although they may be mature enough to live on their own, their naiveté can make them particularly attractive targets for fraudulent schemes and other abuses.

First and foremost, there are a few easy ways to keep yourself or someone you know from becoming a victim include:

  • Students should never share their student ID’s or passwords.
  • Students should never take jobs that require them to deposit funds into their own bank accounts.
  • Before paying any unanticipated debt, students should call the alleged creditor directly (e.g. university finance office, IRS, local police or government office). Insist on seeing something in writing, and do not pay a debt over the phone with a credit card.
  • Check social media for message boards. I was alerted to the mystery shopping scam and various issues with off-campus housing from a private Facebook page whose members consist of other parents with students at my daughter’s university.
  • Taking these proactive steps will minimize the risk of falling victim to some of the recent frauds that target college students.

    For example, as a parent to a college junior, I recently learned of a “mystery shopper scam” directed at students of my daughter’s university. Students received emails via their university email addresses, and the sender appeared to be a department of the university. The email promoted a fun and rewarding part-time job paying up to $50 per hour, and contained a link to the fraudster’s website. Essentially, students are told they will be paid to shop at a certain store and report on their experience. Once “employed,” students are sent what they think is a certified check that will exceed the amount they are told to spend on their mystery purchases, and a small amount they get to keep. Excess funds are to be wired back to the employer. Typically, students wire their own funds to the fraudster before the fake check bounces.

    Other common schemes directed at college students involve fraudsters posing as government officials seeking to collect fake “student taxes.” These scammers use computer software to make it look like their phone calls are coming from a government agency, and students are told they owe money to the agency. Using personal information already available online, the callers convince the students that the debt is legitimate, and that they could be arrested if the debt is not paid. In 2016, one such scheme was directed toward international students at Pennsylvania State University. Scammers spoofed the caller ID so it would appear as though the call was being made from the FBI. Upon answering the phone, foreign students were told that they owed a debt in connection with their financial aid or temporary visa. The callers were aggressive, and even threatened the students with deportation if the payment was not made.1

    In another successful scam, students from the University of Washington were defrauded of nearly $1 million. According to the Seattle Times, as many as 90 Chinese students attending the university were told they could save 5 percent on their tuition if they paid it to an intermediary. Apparently the “deal” was spread through a popular Chinese social-media app by a student who was active in campus activities and widely trusted in the community. As part of the scam, students were asked to provide their login credentials to the university’s student website portal, after which the scammers used stolen credit cards to pay the outstanding tuition. Upon receiving confirmation from the student portal that their fees were paid, the students wired funds or wrote checks to the scammers. The charges on the stolen credit cards would eventually be reversed, leaving students still owing tuition to the university.2

    Another area rife with potential fraud is student off-campus housing. For example, countless students have been duped into providing security deposits and/or tenant applicable fees only to find out that the purported landlords do not own the advertised rental units.

    Finally, and unfortunately, while off-campus housing has many benefits it also provides lucrative opportunities for fraud. In particular, large student-living apartment complexes that have become popular in many college towns are a source for many off-campus housing problems. Although the conduct of management may not rise to the level of out-right fraud, some owners of these rental properties clearly take advantage of their young tenants. Many times, apartment managers pressure students to sign leases (and parents as guarantors) for future terms early in an academic school year, claiming that prices will only increase over time. I have seen first-hand that this is not the case and, in fact, there may be substantial price reductions near the end of a school year when management has not fully rented their units. Renters who sign leases at the higher rates are not given a price break, but rather, remain on the hook for the higher rent. Unscrupulous managers can be slow to resolve maintenance issues, and their interest in student safety can be lacking. Parents and students should check the Better Business Bureau website for past and pending complaints against a particular rental community and its management company before signing a lease or guarantee.

    1 Rushton, G. “FBI Again Warns of Phone Scam Targeting Penn State Students.” April 4, 2016, Accessed March 19, 2019 from,1467442/; “University Police warn of phone scam.” February 5, 2016, Penn State News. Accessed: March 20, 2019 from

    2 Long, K. “Tuition scam takes up to $1 million from UW students.” August 1, 2016, Accessed 3/19/2019 from

    Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton

    Mindy Y, Kubs
    Mindy concentrates on bankruptcy matters and related commercial litigation. Her practice has included the representation of commercial and consumer debtors in all aspects of the bankruptcy process and related litigation, including pre-bankruptcy workouts; local Chapter 7 trustees in the administration of debtor estates; and creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. Mindy also has considerable experience drafting appellate briefs for submission in both state and federal court, including the United States Supreme Court.

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