Read about scams targeting college students, including financial aid, scholarship, and credit card scams. Learn how to avoid becoming a victim of common scams.

8 Scams Targeting College Students and How to Protect Yourself


  • Many scams target college students, and these have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • College students can protect themselves from scams by keeping their information private.
  • Scams include loan scams, credit card scams, employment scams, and social media scams.
  • Protect yourself from college student scams by researching people/companies before engaging.

Most students enroll in college around the time they enter adulthood. Although making choices independently is exciting, dealing with new situations on your own can be tricky. Whether navigating financial aid or scholarships, finding housing for the first time, or building credit, college students have ample opportunities to get scammed.

Along with typical scams targeting college students, individuals must also keep an eye out for COVID-19 scams, such as phony emails claiming to be from your college or fake websites offering information about new federal actions addressing your student loans.

Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams

Figuring out scholarship opportunities and financial aid can be confusing and overwhelming, making it easier for scammers to find victims. Free scholarship and financial aid help is available from many sources, so be wary of any services that charge high prices to help you with your applications.

When searching for scholarship opportunities, check that a website is credible. Fraudulent scholarship websites are sometimes set up to collect personal details for future scams. Also, be wary of giving out your bank account information — scammers may attempt to contact you to award nonexistent scholarships.

How to Protect Yourself

Steer clear of scams by completing your financial aid application on the official FAFSA website. If you are applying for scholarships, create a spreadsheet to keep track of which scholarships you have applied for. You should never give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call with a reputable organization.

Employment Scams

College students seeking lucrative, flexible jobs can become targets of employment scams. A job offer that seems too good to be true could be a scam. Don't engage with any suspicious company websites or email addresses.

Some employment scams targeting college students try to access your bank information. If any job asks for an upfront payment or personal information, don't give it to them. You should never need to pay for employment.

How to Protect Yourself

Always do your research before applying for a job and providing important personal information. Search the internet for the company name to see if it seems credible. Adding words like "scam" or "fake" to your search may be helpful. Stick to applying for job listings hosted on reputable sites.

Student Loan Relief Scams

Student loan forgiveness programs serve many qualifying candidates, and the U.S. Department of Education offers several legitimate forgiveness programs. However, keep in mind that federal programs never ask for a fee to complete any forgiveness paperwork. Forgiveness programs that do charge fees are a scam.

Scammers may also use false promises to pay down student loan debt and lower your monthly payments. As enticing as it sounds, anyone who offers you instant loan forgiveness is running a scam.

How to Protect Yourself

When looking into student loan forgiveness programs, stick to student loan websites operated by the federal government. Only these can forgive your federal student loans. Don't give your personal loan information out — especially your student aid ID or password — and don't pay anyone for help with forgiveness programs.

Credit Card Scams

College students can be especially susceptible to credit card scams. Some credit card solicitations are actually veiled attempts at identity theft. Scammers provide fake applications or falsely represent themselves to gain access to your personal information.

Other credit card scams involve real credit cards, but the credit cards are misrepresented. Avoid falling for misleading credit card offers that actually have unfavorable fees, terms, and/or interest rates.

How to Protect Yourself

If you need a credit card, applying through your bank is probably a safer option. Don't fill out unsolicited credit card offers or provide personal information on credit card offers you didn't seek out. Research different credit card companies and always read the full terms and agreements before signing.

Apartment Scams

Finding affordable off-campus housing can be tough. Some scammers use enticing apartments as a way to steal your money or get personal information. If a listing seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The most common housing scams targeting college students list an apartment or home as available when it isn't. Scammers may convince you to pay a fee, some of the rent, or a deposit without you ever seeing the apartment or home.

How to Protect Yourself

Never pay a fee, rent, or deposit without seeing the interior and exterior of an apartment. Conduct research online, searching the specific address of the apartment or home you're interested in. You can also drive by the listing to see whether it actually appears to be for rent.

Textbook Scams

College textbooks are expensive, and prices can quickly add up each semester. Many students try to cut costs by buying their textbooks used or by trying to find websites that offer cheaper prices than the university bookstore.

Scammers take advantage by creating fake textbook sites, and victims may purchase textbooks that never arrive. Digital downloads can also be suspect to scams. Students interested in digital downloads need to make sure they aren't buying a fake code and that they aren't downloading malware onto their computers.

How to Protect Yourself

The easiest way to avoid textbook scams is to purchase your textbooks through your university bookstore or the publishing company associated with the textbook. Many university bookstores offer buy-back programs at the end of the semester so you can also get used books at a lower cost. Additionally, some campus libraries keep textbooks on hold that you can check out for several hours at a time.

Public Wi-Fi Scams

Completing your homework assignments anywhere with public Wi-Fi sounds enticing, but be wary of scammers using public Wi-Fi to steal your information. Hackers may exploit security flaws on public Wi-Fi routers to gain access to your personal, financial, or banking information.

Along with hacking an existing public Wi-Fi network, scammers may create their own fake hot spots. These fake hot spots often have believable names, leading potential victims to believe the hot spot is the actual Wi-Fi of the establishment.

How to Protect Yourself

When using public Wi-Fi, never access your banking accounts or student loan information. Avoid using a credit card or making purchases over public Wi-Fi. Try frequenting places that have password protected Wi-Fi and always double-check that the connection is the correct one — especially if several networks have similar names.

Social Media Scams

Social media scams are becoming more prevalent and more difficult to identify. Some scams may seem fairly obvious, such as ads that claim you're just one click away from a free gift card. Others, however, are more difficult to spot.

Beware of scammers who set up fake personal profiles and business pages on social media. A fake personal profile may add or follow you with the goal of phishing for personal information. Profiles tend to be realistic, and you might even have mutual friends.

Likewise, fake business pages may sell nonexistent products or collect your email address for future scams or identity theft.

How to Protect Yourself

The easiest way to protect yourself from social media scams is to double-check your privacy settings. Make sure you aren't sharing personal information publicly. Don't accept friend requests from anyone you don't know, even if you share mutual friends. And always research businesses and order through official sites instead of through social media whenever possible.

Avoid Scams: General Advice

General rules to avoid falling for scams include the following:

  • Don't give out personal or financial information to unknown individuals.
  • Research businesses and companies before providing personal information, applying for jobs, or making housing payments.
  • Don't access private accounts or information on public Wi-Fi.
  • Make sure your online accounts are private, including your social media accounts.

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