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College Phone Scams: 4 Telephone Scams Targeting College Students



19 Oct 2015

College students targeted for phone scams

College students become targets of scams before they ever leave for college. As soon as a student graduates, mailboxes are flooded with credit card offers, student loanand grant information, and get rich quick schemes guaranteed to pay tuition. Companies tempt students with promises of debt relief and loan forgiveness. Some companies provide legitimate services but charge exorbitant amounts without any guarantee.

A 2017 NerdWallet report claims that over 130 student debt relief companies have been red-flagged for questionable histories. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau closed three companies for fraudulent activity. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) terminated the activities of four companies accused of illegal operations.

Students and parents should investigate claims before signing up or sending money. Organizations may use official-sounding names, logos or false information when promising to secure funds or other services. Some companies request personal information like Social Security numbers, bank account information or other financial documents information, copies of a FAFSA, phone numbers, addresses, and more. The information opens doors to identity theft, hacking, phishing, and credit fraud.


Targets receive calls from mysterious or untraceable telephone numbers. Savvy scammers know how to spoof phone numbers of legitimate companies. This tricks people into believing the sales pitch and giving out information, signing up for programs, or sending funds.

Know the warning signs and current scams before moving forward with any student program. If the program appears too good to be true, do your homework. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the FTC publish valuable information about scams and how to make reports.

Warning Signs of a Scam

Warning signs for student scams include:

1. Requests for upfront fees.

Companies may perform student debt services for a fee. However, students can navigate many programs without outside help. Ask questions. Most reputable companies admit that an individual can complete the paperwork and apply for student debt or tuition programs.

2. The company promises immediate results for student debt relief.

No one can guarantee immediate results. Companies making false promises are breaking the law. Loans require documentation on the settlement before fees are collected.

3. Pressure to sign up.

If a salesperson exerts undue pressure, it may mean that the program is not legitimate. Don’t give in to pushy sales pitches.

4. The company advertises on social media.

Any student debt relief company that advertises on social media is suspect. Investigate the company using various sources, including the Better Business Bureau, FTC, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Common College Phone Scams

1. Missed Phone Calls

Missing a phone call sparks curiosity. Con artists rely on that curiosity to get people to return the call. Returning a call allows scammers to record the phone number, date, and time the call is received. If the call isn’t answered, it could be part of a one-ring call phone scam.

This scam determines what numbers are likely to answer and at what specific time. The information is sold to third parties who add the number to their automatic dialing systems. Another side of this scam involves charging excessive long-distance fees to the victim’s phone bill. Phone carriers will remove the charges if notified in a timely manner.

The best way to avoid this scam is by using a reverse phone lookup service. Use CallerSmart to check for suspicious behavior on the phone number in question. If you’ve already called back an unknown number and it led to asking for personal information, just hang up.

2. Fake Grants and Loans

You may have previously received a phone call that declared that you’ve been selected for a grant or that you’re pre-approved for a student loan that will help pay for your education. Don’t believe these annoying payday scammers. We've had many users comment on federal grant phone scams.

(425) 559-9332: They speak about calling from the federal government and about student loans, but also try to harvest information. They actually spewed profanities at me when I said they have the wrong number.

Scammers offer fake grants and loans to entice students to sign up for non-existent programs. Instead of the student paying for tuition, the student ends up lining the pocket of the scammer. Financial institutions and government agencies do not call students at random to offer financial aid. Federal grant phone scams try to trick students into believing that a federal program is the real thing. The caller may offer grants, loans, or assistance in refinancing student debt. This guide on refinancing private and federal student loans gives good advice on legitimate services offered by the government.

3. Arrest Warrants

Phone calls from fake law enforcement strike fear into the hearts of students. The caller says the student has committed a crime and must pay or be arrested. The charge could involve anything from a parking ticket to underage drinking to jaywalking. The scam follows this pattern:

  1. A call from the FBI, local sheriff’s department or another government office flashes on your caller ID.
  2. The caller says that you owe a fine and there’s been an arrest warrant written in your name.
  3. If you don’t pay said fines, you will be arrested.
  4. The caller will ask you to pay the fines via a pre-paid gift card, debit card, MoneyGram, or another money transfer service.

The goal of the scammer is to get you to panic and pay. The fraudster threatens the student, saying failure to pay may result in arrest, loss of scholarship or tuition assistance, or the ability to graduate.

4. The Grandparent Scam

With the rise of social media and sharing everything the grandparent phone scam has been becoming more frequent. It targets grandparents, convincing them that their grandchild is in trouble and that they need to send money to help.

Let’s say you’ve got your spring break trip all planned out, or maybe you’re going to be studying abroad next year. If you have a public profile on one of the many social networking sites that there are, scammers can get personal information. They can find out the name of friends and family members and see whether or not you are traveling.

With this information in hand scammers will call your grandmother or grandfather pretending to be you. The will say that you’ve had an accident or that you've got in some trouble and you need help in the form of money. The scammer will often know the names of your parents and ask that they not be contacted in order not to upset them.  The scammer will then give your grandparents specific instructions on how to send the money.

These scams will often times have elaborate back stories and multiple scammers will be involved in order to convince your grandparent that you are actually in danger. 

While this scam doesn’t target students directly it does target the loved ones of students, and it’s important to take precautions to prevent grandparents from being taken advantage of. Take the time to tell your grandparents that you will never call them and ask them to send you money via a wire transfer service.

Tell them that if they do receive a call asking for help they should first ask for more information, hang up and then call you back on your personal phone number. Chances are that you won’t be in any sort of danger and you will be able to talk to them and assure them that nothing is wrong. 

It’s also important to be careful of who you are sharing information with and what information you’re sharing online. Go through your security settings on the social sites you use, like Facebook and Instagram, and set them to share with only friends. 

Keeping yourself, family and friends up to date on the types of scams that are out there is the best way to protect yourself. If you or someone you know has been targeted by scammers you should report it to the authorities.

Other College Scams to Watch Out For

Door-to-Door Fraud

Reports of door-to-door fraud have increased. Students may be approached on campus or in the dorm by someone trying to perpetrate a scam. Scammers offer to run errands, pick up take out, or go to the grocery store or pharmacy. The con artist steals money or property from the victim and disappears. Students should avoid interacting with people offering services for a fee, even if the person offering is a fellow student.

Roommate and Housing Scams

Many students live at home during their college years while others must obtain housing. Student housing includes on or off-campus properties like dorms, college apartments or private rentals. Acquiring living space in dorms and college apartments is safe if arranged directly through a college or university. Making arrangements with potential roommates or private landlords can wreak havoc. The Internet is inundated with ads for cheap rentals or people looking for roommates. Some require payment upfront without seeing the property. The roommates might ask for payment to be sent to them instead of the landlord. Both scenarios are red flags for fraud. Other red flags include a roommate who refuses to meet in person or over the Internet and a roommate or landlord who claims to live out of town. If the student is searching for a roommate, beware of fake checks or money orders.

How to Report Scams Targetting Students

If you encounter a deceitful company, file complaints with the CFPB, the FTC’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), and your state Attorney General’s office. These agencies rely on consumer complaints to police harmful student loan companies and, when possible, get borrowers’ money back. For example, the Washington State Attorney General’s office has returned more than $1.2 million to residents since November 2015.

Other Tips to Avoid College Phone Scams

Fraudsters target anyone who might be duped by their schemes. This includes students. Keeping yourself, family and friends up to date scams is the best way to stay protected. If you or someone you know has been targeted by scammers you should report it to the authorities. You can also warn others of potential phone scams with our free reverse phone book app for iPhone. If you don't have an iPhone, but would still like to warn others, use our unknown caller lookup website and leave your feedback.

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