College Students Beware: That Credit Card Application Could Be a Scam

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students and credit card scams

For years, credit card companies have targeted college students because they have little experience managing their money, tend to run up large balances, and have parents to fall back on when collection notices begin arriving. Identity thieves like college students, too. Indeed, people aged 18 to 29 are the most common victims of identity theft (31%), partly because they lack the life experience to tell them when something is too good to be true.

Before the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 prohibited it, credit card companies used giveaways on college campuses, such as t-shirts and hats, to entice students into signing up for their cards. Identity thieves are moving into the vacuum now, setting up tables on campuses, printing official-looking letters, and giving away school-themed merchandise to tempt students to fill out credit card applications. The thieves then use their personal information to commit identity fraud.

Why do identity thieves go to the trouble of printing school colors on t-shirts, hats, and other items and use other nefarious means to target college students?

  • Easy money
    Thieves go to the extra trouble because students are soft targets and easy money. Scam artists often set up booths on weekend nights when students are in, shall we say, a celebratory mood and more likely to do something spontaneous, like sign up for a credit card to get a goofy hat with the school logo on it.
  • Sheer volume of credit card applications
    College students used to receive legitimate credit card offers on a daily or weekly basis, and most threw them away without shredding them. As many of these offers are pre-approved, an enterprising thief can go dumpster diving, retrieve the applications, change the addresses and ruin the victims' credit.
  • Poor money management skills
    One of the major reasons why students get into credit card debt is they have no life experience to inform their purchasing decisions and limited employment to pay their bills. They also tend to not examine their credit card statements very closely. Thieves know this and often steal smaller amounts over a long period to mask their activities.

If you're a parent of a new college student, you've probably had the talk about the importance of a college education, having fun (but not too much), and being smart about choices. Parents should also talk to their kids about credit card use, the perils of high balances, and the dangers of identity theft. For a little extra protection, parents can enroll their sons and daughters in an identity monitoring service to keep an eye on their kids' identities and unauthorized use of their personal information. For pennies a day, parents can receive alerts when their kids' personal information appears online and enjoy many other benefits.

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