Data breaches for those in educational environments—whether that’s on-campus or online—are on the rise. Education scams have more than doubled in just a few years. For the younger, more traditional college-age students, they can often fall victim to scam because they rarely check their credit reports. An "ignorance is bliss" mentality makes them a prime target for hackers who hope to steal their identities and perpetrate crimes long before they’re ever detected.
Criminals who successfully complete cyber scams are able to access a treasure trove of personal data, including names, Social Security numbers, bank information, and credit card information. They use this data to illegally obtain credit, set up mobile phone accounts, and outright steal money from unsuspecting students.
What Are Cyber Scams?
Cyber scams are any type of financial fraud that is completed with the help of computers or networks. The criminal operates their scam online, and therefore never has direct contact with the victim, making it even more difficult to investigate and identify a criminal.
Cyber scams can take on many forms, but some of the most common against college students include:
- Financial services scam – College students may receive seemingly legitimate offers for scholarships, grants, or work opportunities that are simply a ploy to get their sensitive data.
- Unpaid tuition scam – In this scam, the student or their parents receive a notification that tuition has not been paid. The scammer claims that if the bill is not paid immediately, the student may be unenrolled.
- Fake job scams – Scammers may promise online jobs or quick money to college students who they know are pressed for time. They may charge for initial supplies or send a bad check to get the scam started.
- Roommate scam – Scammers may prey on college students who are looking to live off campus by setting up fake advertisements. The scammer may require an upfront security deposit or use the information on an application to commit identity theft.
- COVID-19 scam – Colleges across the country have reported students are receiving emails about COVID-19 economic stimulus checks. Once the victim clicks on these phishing emails, they are redirected to a site to provide their private data that scammers use to steal victims’ identities.
Cyber Scam Statistics
Cyber scams have become increasingly popular with the proliferation of technology. In 2016, 1,093 data breaches compromised 36,601,939 records, and 15.4 million Americans were the victim of identity theft and financial fraud.
A new report by Mimecast (an email and data security company) revealed that hackers are increasingly targeting those in the education industry. According to the report, colleges, training providers, and private educational companies were the recipient of more malicious emails in the first quarter of 2019 than any other sector or industry.
How to Protect Yourself from Cyber Scams
Some ways to protect yourself from college cyber scams include:
- Don’t give out personal information when it is not necessary.
- Use multi-factor authentication.
- Confirm with your school whether a communication really came from them.
- Use strong passwords, and not the same password for multiple sites.
- Do research on any business that contacts you.
- Only use a secure Wi-Fi network.
- Get your credit monitored periodically so that you are aware of any compromised data. (Editor’s note: The author’s employer, IDstrong, provides this service.)
What to Do if You Are a Victim of Cyber Scams
If you discover that you are a victim of a cyber scam, report it immediately to your bank and credit card companies, your college, and of course, law enforcement.