Apartments

The author says college families should be aware of scams involving apartment rentals and moving services. While these are present throughout the year, August seems to be when the intensity of these crimes increase. While all college students can become victims, most vulnerable are those who have waited until the last minute to make arrangements and are in “panic” mode.

Not long ago, a national retail chain promoted back-to-school shopping with the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Well, once again, scammers and fraudsters are singing the same tune.

August is anticipated by retailers and by scammers. Here are some of the most common scams and questionable hypes in circulation.

Criminals promote online scams by creating websites offering sought-after items at deep discounts. Computers and other tech items are sold at almost-unheard-of prices. Promotions might even note “tax-free” or free shipping from companies not recognized.

Step back! Remember the adage, “If it seems too good to be true. ...”

Check before pulling the trigger on a purchase. Investigate the company with a web search for the company name with the word “review” or “rating.” Use a credit card if you decide to go forward with a purchase, not a gift card or money order. Items on credit card statements can be challenged.

Of course, your best approach is to make purchases from recognized suppliers. (By the way, be sure to check the URL. It should display the company name, followed by “.com”)

The same advice holds for any back-to-school items, including textbooks and home-schooling supplies.

College students and parents need to be aware that they are the center of the scammer’s bull’s-eye right now.

Scholarship and financial aid scams can be traps to collect so-called registration and application fees. Application forms can also be elaborate phishing expeditions to collect a wide assortment of personal information, including names, birthdates, Social Security number, driver’s license number and more.

Avoid falling victim by investigating the offer before completing a form. Fafsa.ed.gov (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), collegeboard.org, goodcall.com and the Better Business Bureau can be excellent resources.

College families should also be aware of scams involving apartment rentals and moving services. While these are present throughout the year, August seems to be when the intensity of these crimes increase.

While all college students can become victims, most vulnerable are those who have waited until the last minute to make arrangements and are in “panic” mode.

Avoid making these decisions online. Check that the company or agency or landlord has a real address and contact telephone numbers. For apartments, always conduct a site visit before making any payment, and only use a local company when choosing a mover.

High school and college students increasingly fall victim to misleading credit card offers. Don’t respond to mail or webmail solicitations. Rather, initiate the contact and review the terms of the card agreement, particularly as it relates to interest rates and fees.

A good source of information is creditcardinsider.com. Fraudulent credit card offers can be attempts at identity theft, as the applications require inclusion of a Social Security number as well as birthdate, address and miscellaneous security information, such as your mother’s maiden name.

As mentioned previously in this column, public Wi-Fi poses a danger to everyone but can be a greater threat to high school and college students. The key word is “public.”

Virtually no protection exists against eavesdropping by hackers. Logging in to bank, credit card or other sensitive sites creates a vulnerability to identity theft and scammers. If you are away from what you know is a secure network, use a VPN (virtual private network) or connect through the hot spot application on your cellphone. Both of these provide the necessary security, whether you are at a fast-food location or on the street.

Finally, know the dangers posed by social media. More than one-half of high school and college students use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. While great for being in contact with friends, quite often those who are “friended” are scammers and criminals. Be sure to only include people you personally know as friends or “likes.”

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, “Mr. Scammer,” distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.: gnat-tv.org.