Post-secondary students should beware of scammers

It's not just the elderly and immigrants who get targeted by scammers; students are also in their crosshairs.

Be careful who you give your SIN to

Be careful who you give your SIN to

Older people and immigrants are the groups most often targeted by scammers; but young people heading off to post-secondary life are warned to be on the lookout for schemes designed to part them from their money.

The “millennials” are known to be savvy when it comes to technology, and one would think they would be equally aware of scams; but Evan Kelly, senior communications advisor for the Better Business Bureau serving Mainland BC, says this isn’t necessarily the case.

“It’s an optimism bias, and they don’t take safety precautions. Plus there’s the arrogance of youth; the feeling that ‘It can’t happen to me.’”

Roommate/rental scams are one way that students are targeted. They will post an ad for a roommate on a site such as Craigslist, and will be approached by a potential roommate who is out of the country but can send rent money upfront in the form of a cheque. When it arrives, it is for a higher amount than what was requested.

“The ‘roommate’ will ask you to cash the cheque and send them the balance as an electronic transfer in order to help them move.” However, the cheque subsequently bounces, leaving the student on the hook for the entire amount.

Kelly also notes that students are vulnerable to employment scams, as they are often looking for jobs to help pay for their schooling. “Secret shopping” and “work from home” scams are common, and often employ the same cheque-cashing scam described above, or ask the potential employee to pay in advance for travel, training, food, or lodging.

Students should beware of ads around campus that offer jobs with “no experience necessary”, or which are offered without the student being interviewed. “If you get a job but didn’t get an interview, you don’t have a job,” says Kelly.

Students are also warned to beware of sites that offer steep discounts but ask for payment to be wired to them rather than accepting a credit card, then fail to send the item. Not accepting payment via credit card is a huge red flag.

Speaking of credit cards, the BBB notes that while it is important for students to start to build their credit rating, they should shop around for a card that has no or low annual fees, and pay their balance in full every month. “And don’t apply for too many credit cards at once,” warns Kelly. “Credit seeking raises a big red flag.”

Another thing to beware of is trial offers, from fitness club memberships to magazine subscriptions. Students should do their homework and find out how much these products and services will cost once the trial period ends.

Students of all ages should be careful about giving their Social Insurance Number to anyone, and should not carry it around with them. “If you are asked for your SIN, ask what it will be used for, who has access to it, where and how it is being stored, and for how long,” advises Kelly. He notes that young people are excellent candidates for identity theft, as they have no questionable credit history or banking transactions that would raise red flags with a financial institution.

Getting hold of a SIN is a key to exploiting that lack of credit history. “When someone has your SIN they can set up accounts, and get credit cards and loans and grants. With young people this theft can go undetected for years, and will only get noticed when they go to open a bank account.” Undoing identity theft can be a long and painful process, so take steps to avoid it.

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