It’s that time of year again. Out of the nest our kiddos fly. Some to a new school, some to school for the first time and some to college for their final years. Wherever your child is headed, they leave the comfort of your protective wings for new adventures.
In college, where most students live without mom or dad for the first time in their lives, scammers are poised and ready to pounce. Paying for college is difficult enough! Get your child ready for college by educating them about these scams and financial decisions. A little precaution, a healthy dose of common sense, and research (preferably at bbb.org) will save your college student money, heartache, and time.
The Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific urges parents and college students to watch out for the following:
Roommate/Rental scheme - If you post an ad for a roommate on Craigslist, beware of "fake roommates" who are out of the country, but can provide the rent upfront in the form of a money order. When you receive it, the amount is higher than the amount requested (overpayment scam). You are asked to cash it and wire back the rest. This is a scam; the roommate isn’t real and your money is gone!
Credit Cards - Credit card offers are all over campus. While it is important to build credit, it is more important to maintain good credit. Many of these cards have annual fees or charge high interest rates on purchases. Shop around for the best rate and pay off your credit card bills every month.
Employment - Beware of ads that pop up near campus offering jobs with "no experience necessary." Too often, these "opportunities" are bogus! If you are interviewed in a hotel lobby or required to sign a contract, or have to pay for everything including training, travel, lodging, food, etc. associated with the job - forget it! Check out a company first with bbb.org.
Scholarship/Grants - Scholarship-finding services "guarantee" grants or scholarships. They sell lists to students on potential scholarship or grant opportunities. However, nearly all available financial aid comes from the federal government or from individual colleges. Go to grants.gov for more information.
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Safeguard your identity - Seventy percent of people are clueless on protecting identity. Keep your personal information, including your driver's license, student ID, debit cards, credit cards, and bank information in a SAFE place. Be wary of any online solicitations, emails, social media sites, or phone calls asking for your personal information. NEVER give out personal information to someone you don't know.
Locksmith Scams - College students are prone to locking themselves out of their homes or cars. If this happens to you, you probably will use your cell phone to search for a nearby locksmith. Problem is, disreputable locksmiths post bogus addresses in their ads to make them appear local, when they're not. Check out the company first, and make sure you are not over-charged for services. (BBB recommends researching first and keeping the local, reputable locksmith's contact information in your purse or wallet).
Online Shopping Deals - You see a much-wanted item for a steep discount online. The catch? The site asks you to wire payment to them instead of using a credit card - a huge red flag. Once the money is sent, the item is never received. Also make sure you have the company's address, and double check it to make sure the address exists (and isn't a rented drop box). Look for information about the company’s return policy and warranty, as well. Even if you get the product you ordered, there’s a chance you may need to return it.
Trial Offers - From fitness club memberships to magazine subscriptions to acne medicine and diet pills, know how much these products and services are going to cost you once the "Free Trial Offer" expires.
Remember, high pressure tactics – whether you’re trying to get a job or find the perfect roommate – are a huge red flag. Any big decision requires thought, research, and reference checks. Don’t get swindled because someone wants you to act quickly without enough information. As always, you can find a business to trust at bbb.org.
Hannah Stiff is the Montana marketplace manager for BBB Northwest and Pacific.