RALEIGH, N.C. – Many college students will be headed to campus this month. Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern North Carolina (BBB) wants students and their parents to know how to keep their money and personal information safe while at school.

Based on BBB’s 2021 report, “Exposed to Scams: Can Challenging Consumers’ Beliefs Protect Them From Fraud?,” scammers succeed by arousing the fears of people who feel compelled to pay. In one instance a scam caller told 19-year-old college student Jackie she owed back taxes and was subject to arrest in order to pressure her into giving them money. Data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also shows younger people aged 20 to 30 lose money to fraud more often than older consumers. 

College students must spend money on tuition payments and school supplies as they prepare for the new year. However, college students are very susceptible to identity theft; by establishing good habits for monitoring and detecting fraud, students can lay a path for healthy financial practices for the rest of their lives.

Tips for students and their parents:

  • Be responsible with credit cards: The first step for students to start building a credit history. Students should understand that interest rates, late fees, and other charges will impact the amount owed. When choosing a credit card, be sure to look at the annual fee, the interest rate, grace period, and late fees.
  • Guard your personal information: Preventing ID theft is important both online and offline. Shred unnecessary documents that include personal information such as social security or bank account numbers. Go paperless to avoid opportunities of ID Theft. Keep all printed account information (paper statements, passwords, debit/credit cards) in a safe, secure location in your dorm room. Never share your PIN# with anyone and regularly monitor financial accounts by setting up mobile app alerts.
  • Take advantage of student perks: Avoid spending extra money on food if you have a cafeteria or a meal plan. Before deciding on a plan, research the available options at your college – most of which will be much cheaper than outside meals. When you do go out, take advantage of any student discounts at businesses or venues.
  • Pay less for textbooks: Research different websites and retailers to get the best deal on textbooks. When possible, buy used books at the campus bookstore or compare prices with online retailers like Amazon or eBay. Consider renting textbooks at your school’s bookstore or from sites like Chegg.com. Remember to sell used books back at the end of the semester. Always research online retailers at BBB.org prior to purchase.
  • Stick to a budget: Following an organized budget will help students stay on track with spending and financial goals. Parents can help by setting up a semester budget. Begin with income. Calculate how much will be available – either from parents, savings, a part-time job, financial aid, grants or loans, or other revenue sources. Include books, rent, food, entertainment, and other expenses. Remember to include a certain amount in your budget for emergency purposes. 
  • Start saving money now: Developing good saving habits early on will help students reap lifelong benefits. In your 20s, you have a small window of opportunity to wield the power of compounded 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 their credit report.
  • Locate reputable credit counselors by contacting:
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling
  • Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies

Do not succumb to a “too good to be true” solution. It is a sad fact of life that scam artists are always willing to prey on those who feel caught in a financial bind. College students are not immune to tempting schemes.

One tactic that has been used to get students’ personal information is a phishing email that claims to be from the school’s “Financial Department.” Messages via text or email may appear, instructing the student to click on a link provided in the email and log in with a student username and password. Don’t do it. Doing so could give the user name, password, or other personal information to scammers, while possibly downloading malware onto the device.

BBB recommends that college-bound students take the following 9 steps to fight identity theft on campus:

  • Send sensitive mail to your permanent home or a post office box. School mailboxes are not always secure and often can be accessed easily in a dorm or apartment.
  • Important documents should be stored away safely. This includes your U.S. Social Security card, passport, and bank and credit card statements. Shred credit card offers and any paper documents that have sensitive financial information rather than just tossing them out.
  • 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 for a loan or financing for items like a TV. When using an ATM or credit card machine, don’t let anyone ‘shoulder surf’ your personal identification number (PIN).
  • Guard your passwords and don’t give them out to anyone. Use strong passwords and don’t use the same password for all sites.
  • Watch for phishing. Be vigilant and be careful of clicking on links in emails and texts; verify the content with the website. More on phishing scams.
  • Make sure your computer has up-to-date antivirus and spyware software. Always install any updates and patches to your computer’s operating system or browser software, which help keep your computer safe from any new advances by identity thieves online.
  • Always check your credit or debit card statements closely for any suspicious activity. The sooner you identify any potential fraud, the less you’ll suffer in the long run.
  • Be careful when shopping online. Check out businesses on BBB.org. Look for the BBB Accredited Business seal; click on the seals to confirm that they are legitimate. See BBB’s tips for smart shopping online.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year. You are entitled to one free report a year from each of the three reporting bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Look for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies. You can do this for free by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.

For more information you can trust, visit BBB.org