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Top student scams: spot and stop them

From fictional flats to fake jobs, there's a lot you can do to take down the scammers focusing their nasty efforts on students.

Reckon you could spot a scam a mile off? Take a look at some of the scams targeted at young people, below, to find out how much you really know.

Remember that a scam is a criminal offence. It’s really important to report anything you think is a scam to Action Fraud, even if you don’t personally fall victim. If you don’t report it, it’s less likely to be shut down - and more people will lose their money.

Also take a look at our bumper guide on protecting yourself from student scams, to clue up on telltale signs and what to do if you’re caught out.

1. Student Loans Company (SLC) phishing scam

In September 2017, students were warned about a SLC email scam. The email claimed that SLC accounts had been suspended due to incomplete information, to trick victims into clicking a link to a fake website set up to steal personal information.

The scammers chose the last few weeks of August and the beginning of September to send the email, as students started receiving thousands of pounds in loans ahead of the new academic year. But a similar scam had been around before, and may well rear its ugly head again.

What’s also scary is that the email mentioned above came from [email protected], which looks really quite convincing! However, on closer inspection, it’s riddled with glaring spelling and grammar mistakes, which sets the warning alarms off.

If you’re ever wondering whether an email is genuinely from SLC, report it to Action Fraud and email [email protected], an official channel set up by SLC so you can check if emails are legitimate.

November 2018 update - tax refund email scam

Hundreds of thousands of students have received fake emails claiming that they are entitled to a tax refund, in a bid to steal their banking and personal details.

The email comes from an email address, tailored to the student receiving it, to appear legitimate (eg if they were a Cambridge student, it might be: [email protected]). The student’s name and university may be included in the main body of the email too, along with branding for HMRC, GOV.UK and credit cards.

See the example below:

Student tax refund scam

Students are asked to click through to another page to submit their details so their refund can be issued. HMRC have said they would never issue real refunds via email, text or voicemail.

If you receive one of these emails, forward it to [email protected].

How to protect yourself from scams

2. Social media scams

One in five young people have been hacked on social media, with 43% of those having no idea how it happened, according to research published by Nationwide in June 2018.

Once a hacker sneaks into your account, they can see everything you’ve posted online. And if you share information such as your address, phone number or birthday, this could be used to defraud you.

See more: our top tips on staying safe online.

As well as sneaking into your account, some scammers use social media to actively phish for sensitive details.

For example, scammers recently appeared to offer free Ryanair flights to Whatsapp users who shared the message with 15 of their friends, to spread the fake offer more widely. They were then asked to claim their tickets by providing their personal details.

Plus, a “What’s your royal wedding guest name?” quiz did the rounds on social media around the time of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. To create your fictional royal name, you needed one of your grandparents’ first names, your first pet’s name, and the name of the street you grew up on. These are all common security questions required to change a password or log in to a service, which many people were openly posting on their accounts.

The key takeaway is that you should always think twice before revealing any personal information on social media.

3. Rental scams

How’s this for a cup of shock soup… £22 million was lost to rental fraud between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2018, with an average of £1,396 lost per victim, according to Action Fraud.

This is how it works: fraudulent landlords post fake ads and ask prospective tenants to transfer deposits - or prove they have rent money - before they’ve even seen the property.

The so-called landlord then disappears off the face of the earth - and victims lose their money, which means they might not be able to rent a valid property.

The National Union of Students has some good advice to avoid being duped by a rental scam:
  • Never transfer a holding deposit before visiting a property.
  • Avoid making payments via money transfer companies such as Western Union.
  • Make sure the advert looks legitimate - for example, that there are photographs of the property and that the same photographs aren’t being used on lots of different adverts.
  • Be wary of telephone numbers not based in the UK or beginning 070 (non-geographic business numbers), and of adverts that only let you get in contact via email.
  • Use a trusted and verified landlord or letting agent - your student union or accommodation office probably has a list.
  • Protect your deposit by using a scheme approved by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

4. Job scams

In November 2017, Action Fraud sent out an alert warning that jobs were being posted by bogus recruitment companies and businesses. People were asked to complete application and interview forms that requested personal details and banking details, as well as copies of identity documents, such as passports.

With this, scammers are taking advantage of limited job experience, which makes it tricky to know what’s normal or what to expect.

As well as losing money, you might miss out on genuine jobs or opportunities by wasting your time applying for a scam.

Fully research a company before applying for a job with them, and check the employer’s website or emails for poor spelling and grammar. Also, question why a company would need certain information from you for applying for a job - for example, why would it need your banking details at that point?

5. Money mule scams

Acting as a money mule means that you let someone use your bank account to move money from criminal funds. As part of the arrangement, mules are told they can keep some of the money for themselves.

The potential consequences of being caught doing this are severe. The targeted young person may be implicated in money laundering themselves, which could land them a 14-year prison sentence.

While the prospect of being asked to be a money mule may seem like something out of a movie, it’s a growing problem. According to the fraud protection service Cifas, there was a 75% rise in the misuse of bank accounts by 18 to 24 year-olds compared to the previous year during the first nine months of 2017.

While you might not think of this as a scam exactly, it’s another example of short-of-cash young people being targeted and exploited - and it’s important to be wise to the consequences.

6. Ticketing scams

Whether you’re a gig lover or sports enthusiast, beware of ticketing scams.

More than £3 million was lost to ticket fraud in the space of a single year, with an average loss of £568 per victim, according to Action Fraud.

Scammers pose as a website or agent for an event, and victims purchase tickets that either don’t arrive or are turned away at the door for having fake tickets. These scams are especially prevalent in summer, when more events are on.

Next up… learn how to protect yourself against scams and what to do if one gets past you.

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