AS university students around Scotland enrol on their undergraduate courses this September, scammers continue to employ new and creative methods to defraud unsuspecting students out of thousands of pounds online.
With this in mind, David Janssen, a cybersecurity expert and founder of VPNOverview, has put together a list of the most common online student scams, including what to look out for and how to avoid them.
1. Student Loans Company (SLC) phishing scam
If your course is starting in September this year, then your government student loan will be paid to you in three instalments, which you should receive during September, January and April.
Scammers will choose to send ‘phishing’ emails or texts to students during these months, in which they falsely pose as the Student Loans Company asking you to verify personal banking information. These texts or emails often ask the user to log into their account and confirm their banking details via a ‘secure link’ in order to receive their first loan payment. This link will then direct the user to a copycat webpage that replicates the SLC website, which then steals your personal and banking details.
While these emails can be quite convincing, giveaways you have received an SLC scam email include; spelling or grammatical errors in the body of text, pixelated or stretched images of SLC logos and generic greetings such as ‘Dear Sir/Madam/Student.’
Remember, SLC will never ask you to confirm your bank details via email or text message. Only ever log into your student finance account through the government login portal to check or update your loan payment details. If you suspect you have received a phishing text or email, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org or your university IT department before deleting it.
2. HMRC tax rebate scam
University students often choose to take on a part-time job in order to provide an additional source of income to help cover their cost of living. For some this may be their first time in employment, meaning they haven’t paid tax before and are unfamiliar with genuine contact from HMRC, making them more vulnerable to online scammers.
Cybercriminals will send text messages and emails to students, claiming to be from HMRC, stating that the individual is owed a tax refund. The message will then prompt the person to first confirm their details through the link provided in order to receive this money.
Much like Student Loan Company scams, these texts and emails can be quite convincing and will use images and formal language to make the user believe it is legitimate. The link will either lead to a fake website, where the user unknowingly hands over their personal details, or it will download malware onto the user’s device which then harvests their personal information.
It’s important to note that HMRC will never ask you to click through on any links in their communication with you. If you are genuinely entitled to a tax refund, HMRC will send you a letter stating so. If you are unsure whether you have received a scam HMRC email, forward it to email@example.com where they will confirm whether or not it is a legitimate correspondence. Scam texts can be forwarded for free to 60599.
3. Freshers Week ticket scam
As a new student, you are likely going to worry about missing out on key social events such as Freshers Week, where you can mix with other students during your first week of university.
Scammers will try to exploit students by posting fake student or freshers’ events on Instagram or Facebook, with the aim of pocketing your money. These events will often imply they are the only ‘official’ event and may include phrases such as ‘Limited availability’ or ‘Final Release’ in the event title, creating a sense of urgency to buy tickets so that you don’t miss out.
In reality, Freshers’ Week tickets rarely sell out, and some universities will even allow you to buy them throughout your first week of university. Even when buying a genuine Fresher’s Week ticket or wristband online, you may be required to purchase it through a separate designated website.
The best way to ensure that you are buying from the correct site is to visit your university’s official website and click through to the ticket page from there, rather than searching online or clicking through from Facebook or Instagram pages.
4. Facebook Marketplace scam
The majority of university courses require students to complete some form of additional reading outside of their lecture hours. However, as brand-new course textbooks can be expensive, many students opt for second-hand books from Facebook Marketplace or Facebook resale groups.
Scammers will often set up fake accounts, posing as a Facebook Marketplace seller promising to post the textbooks once you have bank transferred the money. Warning signs that you are dealing with a fraudulent seller include; their profile has only recently joined Facebook, they have limited or no profile pictures or there is little engagement from other users on their profile.
Even if the Facebook user appears authentic and trustworthy, avoid bank transferring money to people you do not know. Suggest meeting up on campus or in a public place, and offer to pay in cash rather than via bank transfer. Alternatively, Amazon sells used copies of textbooks through verified sellers, where you will have a level of buyer protection.
5. Student accommodation rental scam
A few months into your university experience you may begin looking for accommodation for your second year of study, which is often based off campus. Unfortunately, fraudulent landlords will be looking to make a quick buck from unsuspecting students looking to rent shared student accommodation. One common rental scam involves the would-be ‘landlord’ listing a non-existent property online and then requesting for a holding deposit to be made in order to take the property off the market. The listing is then taken offline, and the landlord is no longer contactable.
Remember, if the price looks too good to be true then it probably is. Make sure you view the property in person before placing any kind of deposit and aim to use a trusted student letting agent to avoid falling victim to this type of scam. Your university website or student union may also offer a list of verified and trusted letting agents located within your area.