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Beware of Scams

A student sitting at their computer sees a scam alert.

In the modern and ever-evolving world, technology and its applications have advanced by leaps and bounds, allowing for a wide variety of uses right at users’ fingertips. 

As technology has advanced, so have online and over-the-phone scams designed to steal money. Scams targeting college students are becoming increasingly prevalent. 

NC State Assistant Vice Chancellor and Student Ombud Mike Giancola reported that his office has seen a recent rise in both the frequency and sophistication of scams targeting college students and that it’s essential for students to be vigilant and think critically about messages and phone calls they receive as potential scams

“A healthy dose of skepticism is important,” Giancola said. “Make sure you take the time to look into something further. If someone’s trying to pressure you to take immediate action, that’s probably a red flag. If you have questions, there are people on campus who can assist, including Student Legal Services or, in the case of our international students, the Office of International Services.”

While scams are constantly emerging and evolving, having an awareness of some of the most common scams can reduce the likelihood of students falling victim to them, so we’ve broken down a few in detail below: 

The Concert Scam

This scam involves scammers infiltrating student groups on the popular messaging app GroupMe and posing as NC State students. Students use GroupMe for many purposes, including finding housing, communication from resident advisors to residence hall residents, clubs and classes. 

Scammers reach out to students via GroupMe and tell them they have concert tickets for a popular artist at a discount, but they only want to sell them to an NC State student. The scammer will ask the student to send a picture of them holding up their student ID as “proof” and ask for money in exchange for the cheap tickets, which never existed. 

The scam does not stop there. The scammer will then use the student’s picture with their ID to pose as an NC State student and scam other students. 

“Don’t take a picture of yourself and your student ID,” Giancola said. “There’s no good reason to ever do it, and anytime you do it, it’s likely just going to be used or abused in some way.” 

Giancola also warned that students need to consider the likelihood of tickets to a popular concert being sold at an extreme discount. 

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he said. 

Phone Scams Targeting International Students 

In the modern era of scams, fraudsters can manipulate their caller ID to deceive people.

Giancola said a common scam targeting international students is for a scammer to call posing as, for example, the Wake County Sheriff’s office, and tell a student that there’s a warrant out for their arrest, and if they hang up the phone for any reason, an officer will be sent to arrest them. 

The scammer then tells the student that, in order to avoid arrest, they need to pay them in the form of purchasing a gift card and reading them the information over the phone. 

“If someone asks you to pay them in gift cards, it’s a scam 100% of the time,” Giancola said.

Another variation of this scam is when scammers impersonating a foreign government call international students and tell them there’s a problem with their Visa, and that they need to stay on the phone and send payment or risk being deported. 

“If anybody calls you and is requiring you to do something before they get off the call, it’s a scam,” Giancola advised. “No one’s going to force you to do something that quickly if it was legitimate.” 

Impersonating a Faculty Member

The scam that prompted Giancola to act was one impersonating an NC State faculty member offering students a high-paying job. The scammer impersonated an NC State professor using their full name with a number as part of a fake email address, offering students a research job paying $40 per hour. 

“Some of these students are dealing with financial pressures and can’t pay their rent month to month, so when someone offers them a good job, they’re going to jump on it,” Giancola said. 

The scammer will tell the student they’re spending the semester working overseas, so the work and communication will all be remote. After issuing the student some fake assignments to make the job seem legitimate, the false professor informs the student that they lost their credit card, and they need the student to purchase gift cards online and send them the information, and that they’ll be reimbursed on their first paycheck. 

If the student agrees to buy and send a gift card the first time, the scammer usually asks them to do it multiple times. 

“If someone comes to you and asks you for more money, it’s probably a scam,” Giancola said.

NC State faculty and staff will never email students from a non-NC State email, especially to offer a job.  

Housing Scam 

With such a tight housing market in the Raleigh area, many students are looking to sublease their apartments, especially if they’re spending a semester elsewhere for an internship or co-op. 

Scammers will prowl local housing sites to see if students have listed apartments for sublease and reach out to them. A scammer will tell a student that they’re moving to Raleigh and want to sublease their apartment, and their employer is paying for their living expenses. 

The scammer will say they will pay up front for two months of rent, but their employer can only send them one check. So, they’ll offer to sign the full check over to a student, but ask the student to return the extra amount once they’ve deposited it. For example, a scammer might sign over a check for $8,000, have the student deposit it, keep $1,500 for rent, and send back $6,500 via Zelle or another money transfer service. 

In this scam, it’s a bad check, and the student loses the money they send to the scammer. 

“Don’t ever cash a check from someone you don’t know. If someone ever sends you a check for more than what they owe you and asks you to return some of it, it’s likely a scam.” 

Giancola also cautioned students not to click links via text message or email sent from an unknown source and that most companies won’t reach out via phone call or text message for payment but send a written letter. If students have a question about a communication they receive, they should go online, look up a company’s phone number and call that company directly. 

For those at NC State tasked with supporting students’ well-being, it’s disheartening to see them frequently targeted by scammers. 

“Anybody being a victim of a scam is a challenge, but in this case, you’ve got students who are living on fixed incomes or struggling to pay for their schooling, and then they’re out thousands of dollars,” Giancola said. 

Giancola said that victims of scams, students or otherwise, often feel embarrassed, so his office suspects that the scams are happening even more frequently than they’re reported. 

Any student who suspects they’ve been scammed should reach out to support services on campus, such as student legal services, the Office of International Services or Giancola for assistance. 

If you have questions regarding potential scams, contact the NC State Help Desk via the NC State IT Service Portal or call 919.515.HELP (4357).

“When I talk with students, they feel bad. I remind them these scammers spend their lives trying to find new and innovative scams. They’re unethical, but they spend a lot of time evolving.”

This post was originally published in DASA.