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Common Financial Scams College Students Should Know and How to Avoid Them
Campus Money Diaries

Common Financial Scams College Students Should Know and How to Avoid Them

The vast majority of students in Kenya begin college when they reach adulthood. While making your own decisions is exciting, dealing with new situations on your own can be difficult. College students have various opportunities to be scammed, whether they are negotiating financial assistance or scholarships, jobs, or even on social media.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), scammers target young people in a variety of ways, and many of these techniques take advantage of activities that students mostly participate in. Statistics show that adults aged 20 to 29 reported losing money to scammers at a rate of 44% in 2020, which was more than double the incidence (20%) of people aged 70 to 79.

When it comes to financial crime, scams, and fraud, students are commonly targeted. As a result, it is more important than ever for students to be aware of the types of scams to which they may be particularly vulnerable and to be confident in their ability to recognise warning signs.

Hop in, let’s lay things bare.

1. Job and Internship Frauds

Most college students are always on the lookout for methods to make money or boost their income. It may be difficult to turn down a job offer that allows them to work around their course and study commitments.

Unfortunately, scammers exploit this technique to steal cash and the identities of unsuspecting students. The thought of making a few thousands per month (or even per week, as some commercials claim) while still having time for school, studying, and socialising is certainly enticing and this is something that scammers are fully aware of.

The nature of 'advance fee fraud' is consistent: victims are advertised or offered a product, service, or opportunity, but they must pay an upfront charge in order to take advantage of it. Students and young adults are especially vulnerable to advance fee scams for jobs and internships.

According to the ITRC, scammers may utilise enticing job offers to steal the identities of unsuspecting students. These thieves may attempt to steal a student's financial resources, personal information, or even their physical safety.

Offers that appear too good to be true, requests for advance money or personal information, a suspicious-looking email address or company website, or being invited to an unusual location for an interview are all red flags for job and internship scams.

Here’s how you can protect yourself: If you're seeking for work or have been contacted via a social media profile by someone offering you a job, make sure the person, company, and website you're sending information to are all legit. 

Be cautious. There is no such thing as a job that pays well for doing nothing or a job that can make you huge amounts of money in a day or week. Also, a trustworthy job will not require a processing charge, an upfront out-of-pocket expense, or all of your personal information in order to apply. Always keep in mind that if something appears to be too good to be true, it almost always is!

2. Scholarships and Grants Scams 

Many young people are concerned about financing their higher education, which may lead them to fall victim to phony scholarships or grant scams. 

Some scammers fake such offers in order to gather personal information from students seeking financial assistance while others demand money in exchange for information about potential scholarship opportunities that may or may not materialise.

Once the fee is paid, the fraudster vanishes. 

Here’s how you can protect yourself: If you're applying for scholarships, create a spreadsheet to keep track of the ones you've applied for. You should also never give out personal information over the phone or email unless you initiated a conversation with a reputable institution.

3. Money Mules Scams

The third type of financial crime that students are regularly targeted for is money muling. This is where criminals use other people - in this case, students to launder money (the 'washing' of criminal proceeds through a seemingly innocent bank account in order to make cash appear real). 

Money mules can be perfectly innocent persons who have been deceived into believing that the payments are part of a legitimate business or service they have promised to do. You probably have heard of such rising cases in the local news stations around the country, where young people have received millions in their personal bank accounts.

Students are regularly targeted because fraudsters aim for those with no criminal history and either a good, clean, or non-existent credit history in order to avoid appearing suspicious to banks.

What most students may not know, however, is they risk being the subject of a criminal investigation and even prosecution.

Here’s how you can protect yourself: If you don't know and trust the individual getting your bank account information, don't give it out. Do not send funds received from an unknown entity, person, or employer to an unknown location or person. Never give anyone else access to your bank account. Research shows that nearly one-seventh of students have disclosed their PIN.

Unsolicited offers of easy money, which are a common strategy employed by criminals to lure students to become money mules, should be completely avoided. Allow yourself some time to think about it, consult your parents or someone older, and keep in mind that giving someone else access to your bank account is a serious mistake that could jeopardise your financial future.

4. Identity Theft Scams

Because many young people are ignorant, they make it easier for would-be identity thieves to phish for information because they don't realise they're giving up personal information that can be used to commit identity theft.

Many of such scams are carried out online, with emails or pop-up windows asking for verification of addresses, phone numbers, passwords, and bank or credit card account details. You become a victim if someone steals your personal information with the intent of committing fraud.

Identity theft is such a prevalent problem that it has been identified as an offense under Section 29 of the Data Protection and Cyber security law of Kenya and, upon conviction, results in a fine of Ksh200,000, three years' imprisonment, or both.

Here’s how you can protect yourself: To keep yourself safe, respond quickly to any suspicious behaviour. It's also vital to monitor your personal information and financial accounts on a regular basis, as well as set up fraud alerts on all your gadgets.

5. Public WI-Fi Scams

College students can spend a lot of time on public Wi-Fi networks. Students who utilise public Wi-Fi, unfortunately, are more prone to scams.

While it may appear okay to complete assignments and projects anywhere there is public Wi-Fi, be wary of scammers who exploit security flaws in public Wi-Fi routers by scanning data exchanged between the network and your computer, tablet, or phone to steal your information. 

Scammers can also set up their own fake hotspots as well as compromise an existing public Wi-Fi network.

Here’s how you can protect yourself: When using public Wi-Fi, avoid accessing your student portal, banking, or other sensitive websites, and if possible, avoid visiting any website that requires you to enter your password. 

Stick to places with password-protected Wi-Fi and double-check that the connection you're using is the correct one - especially if other networks share the same name.

6. Social Media Scams

Young people are notorious for their social media addiction. Snapchat is used by 78% of 18 to 24-year-olds, 71% use Instagram, and nearly 50% use Twitter.

Scammers could be lurking on social media platforms, even on pages that appear to be linked with legitimate organisations. Scammers create fake university pages and approach college students in order to get email addresses, which can lead to spam inboxes or even identity theft.

Hackers posing as friends or family members on social media might also gain access to your data using social "engineering." It's likely that you'll be asked to do something as simple as download apps or complete surveys, giving criminals access to your login credentials and account access. 

Scams on social media are becoming increasingly prevalent and difficult to detect. Some scams are blatant, such as advertisements suggesting that a free gift card or iPhone is just a click away. Others, on the other hand, are harder to identify.

Here’s how you can protect yourself: The simplest way to protect yourself from social media scams is to double-check your privacy settings. Make sure that you are not giving any personal information to the general public. Accept friend requests from people you know, and those who have mutual connections with you.

Additionally, whenever possible, perform research on companies and place orders through official websites rather than social media.

7. Make Money Fast Scams

Do you want to make money quickly and effortlessly on the internet? You probably said yes to the question.

Cybercriminals promote inauthentic employment and get-rich-quick schemes where victims are persuaded to reveal personal or financial information in exchange for well-paying employment opportunities that will pay off handsomely in a short period of time, or an offer to invest in a lucrative opportunity with a significant payout.

Many of these scammers explicitly target young people in such adverts.

Here’s how you can protect yourself: Always exercise caution before investing in a 'get rich quick scheme, whether online or offline.

Final Thoughts

Many college students are unfortunately victims of financial fraud on a regular basis.

Even if you have all of the necessary information, you could inadvertently open a link in an email or DM that installs hazardous malware on your phone or computer. 

Financial scams and crimes are on the rise, and as fraud tactics become more sophisticated, we are all in danger of falling victim to financial scams and identity theft.

Keep an eye on your accounts and any requests for personal information.

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Sheila Brenda Andoi is a dedicated journalist, meticulous editor, and skilled communicator with a profound passion for maternal health. Her journey in the world of media and communication has been marked by a commitment to shedding light on crucial issues. Sheila's writing not only informs but also inspires and educates

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