RALEIGH, NC – Many college students will be heading onto campus this month. The Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern North Carolina (BBB) wants students and their parents to know how to protect their money and personal information while they are in school.
Based on BBB’s 2021 report, “Exposed to Scams: Can Challenging Consumers’ Beliefs Protect Them From Fraud?”, scammers manage to instill fear in people who feel compelled to pay. In one instance, a fraudulent caller told 19-year-old college student Jackie that she owed taxes and was being arrested to pressure her into giving them money. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data also shows that younger people in their 20s and 30s are more likely to lose money to fraud than older consumers.
College students need to spend money on tuition and school supplies while preparing for the new year. However, college students are very vulnerable to identity theft; By establishing good habits of monitoring and detecting fraud, students can pave the way for sound financial practices for the rest of their lives.
Tips for students and their parents:
- Use credit cards responsibly: The first step for students to start building a credit history. Students should be aware that interest rates, late fees and other fees will affect the amount owed. When choosing a credit card, be sure to pay attention to the annual fee, interest rate, grace period, and late fees.
- Protect your personal data: Preventing identity theft is important both online and offline. Shred unnecessary documents that contain personal information such as social security or bank account numbers. Go paperless to avoid opportunities for identity theft. Keep all printed account information (paper statements, passwords, debit/credit cards) in a safe place in your dorm room. Never share your PIN number with anyone, and regularly monitor financial accounts by setting up mobile app notifications.
- Enjoy student benefits: Avoid spending extra money on food if you have a cafeteria or meal plan. Before committing to a plan, research the options available at your college — most of which are a lot cheaper than al fresco dining. If you’re going out, take advantage of any student discounts at businesses or venues.
- Pay less for textbooks: Check out different websites and retailers to get the best deal on textbooks. If possible, buy used books in the campus bookstore or compare prices at online retailers such as Amazon or eBay. Consider renting textbooks from your school’s bookstore or from websites like Chegg.com. Remember to resell used books at the end of the semester. Always research online retailers at BBB.org before making a purchase.
- Stick to a budget: Keeping an organized budget helps students stay on track with spending and financial goals. Parents can help by setting up a semester budget. Start with income. Calculate how much you have available — either from parents, savings, a side job, financial aid, grants or loans, or other sources of income. Include books, rent, food, entertainment and other expenses. Remember to include an amount in your budget for emergencies.
- Start saving now: Developing good saving habits early on helps students reap lifelong benefits. In your 20s, you have a small window of opportunity to wield the power of compound interest.
- Understand the dangers of debt: Understand the importance of paying off debt in a timely and responsible manner. Know the basics of debt management: pay on time; pay more than the minimum payment due; and avoid missed or late payments that result in costly late fees, higher interest rates, and negative marks on your credit report.
- Find reputable credit advisors by contacting:
- National Foundation for Credit Advice
- Association of independent consumer credit advice centers
Don’t succumb to a “too good to be true” solution. It’s a sad fact of life that scammers are always ready to take advantage of those who are in financial trouble. College students are not immune to tempting plans.
One tactic used to obtain students’ personal information is a phishing email pretending to be from the school’s “finance department.” Text or email messages may appear instructing the student to click on a link provided in the email and log in with a student username and password. Do not do it. This could give the username, password or other personal information to scammers while potentially downloading malware onto the device.
BBB recommends that college students take the following 9 steps to combat identity theft on campus:
- Send sensitive mail to your permanent residence or PO Box. School mailboxes are not always secure and are often easily accessible in a dorm or apartment.
- Important documents should be kept safe. This includes your US Social Security card, passport, and bank and credit card statements. Shred credit card offers and all paper documents containing sensitive financial information instead of just throwing them away.
- Never lend your credit or debit card to anyone. Just say no if your friend wants to borrow your card or asks you to co-sign a loan or financing for items like a TV. If you’re using an ATM or credit card machine, don’t let anyone surf your personal identification number (PIN).
- Protect your passwords and do not share them with anyone. Use strong passwords and don’t use the same password for all websites.
- Watch out for phishing. Be careful not to click on links in emails and texts; Check the content with the website. More on this phishing scam.
- Make sure your computer has up-to-date antivirus and spyware software. Always install any updates and patches for your computer’s operating system or browser software that will help protect your computer from new attacks by identity thieves on the Internet.
- Always check your credit or debit card statements closely for suspicious activity. The sooner you spot potential fraud, the less you’ll suffer in the long run.
- Be careful when shopping online. Look at the companies BBB.org. Look for the BBB Accredited Business seal; Click on the seals to confirm they are legit. See BBB tips for smart online shopping.
- Check your credit report at least once a year. You are entitled to one free report per year from each of the three reporting bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Look for suspicious activity or inaccuracies. You can do this for free by visiting it www.annualcreditreport.com.
For more information you can trust, visit BBB.org.