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Be aware of these 5 back-to-school scams

Posted at 2:27 PM, Aug 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-16 15:31:29-04

Scammers are always hard at work to figure out how to get hold of your money or personal information. At this time of year, they target students who are getting ready to head back to school, parents and even schools themselves.

Here are a few examples of scams that have happened in past years and some ways to spot phony offers.

Schools get fake invoices for books
An “old-school” method was used to bilk a number of schools out of cash — fake invoices were mailed to schools charging for supposed orders of textbooks. Schools from 27 states were targeted, and scammers made up to $700 with each invoice paid.

In a similar scam, schools in 22 states were sent invoices for “phony workbooks” they never received, “all for the same $647.50 amount,” according to a report in Memphis.

Fake scholarships
Scams abound with scholarships, too. College is notoriously expensive and many people go into long-term debt to get a degree, so it’s not surprising that many students let down their guards and get lured into scams that promise money or help getting scholarships.

The most common are companies that charge exorbitant fees upfront to find financial aid and promise results. The Department of Education says “commercial financial aid advice services can cost well over $1,000.” While these business aren’t necessarily scamming you, the department’s website says, by charging a fee for “help or information that’s available for free elsewhere,” most people can at least avoid those expenses by searching themselves with free resources that are readily available. In the case of services that make guarantees, “if a company doesn’t deliver what it promises, it’s scamming you.”

Fees for help with applications
The Education Department’s site also notes that other companies will charge fees to fill out your free application for Federal Student Aid or provide services related to student loans. There is plenty of free help available for these, so check out the ED site for links and other suggestions of where to turn, such as college financial aid offices.

 

 

Financial aid identity theft

It’s possible to be targeted for identity theft when filling out the FAFSA or other legitimate applications online. The Education Department recommends a few steps to reduce the possibility of this happening: exit applications when finished and close your browser, keep track of where you have applied and for what amounts and don’t give any personal information over the phone unless you made the call.

Fake coupons abound
There are always fake offers for free coupons or chances to win gift cards to mass merchandisers in the fall (and throughout the year). Who wouldn’t want $100 to apply to new clothes for growing kids? Unfortunately, these are rarely authentic. 

Snopes.com warned about a real-looking coupon for $100 off a purchase at Target if Facebook users clicked, liked and shared. Of course, it was another click-bait scam that opened the door to the scammers collecting clickers’ personal information and/or infecting their computers with malware and viruses.

To avoid or reduce the chance of being scammed in any situation, back-to-school or otherwise, use good practices:

  • Research — if you’re interested in a good offer, search online for positive reviews or warnings about it.
  • Delete suspicious texts and emails, and don't click on links from unknown sources.
  • Create secure passwords.
  • Shop reliable online retailers.
  • Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it likely is.

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