AARP Fraud Watch Network: Back to School scams

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REGION – Not long ago a national retail chain promoted back to school shopping with the song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Well, once again, scammers and fraudsters are singing the same tune. August is anticipated by retailers and by scammers. Here are some of the most common scams and questionable hypes in circulation.

Super Sales

Criminals promote online scams by creating websites offering sought-after items at deep discounts. Computers and other tech items are sold at almost unheard-of prices. Promotions may even note “tax-free” or free shipping from companies not recognized.

Step back! Remember the adage: “If it seems too good to be true…” Check before pulling the trigger on a purchase. Investigate the company with a web search for the company name with the word “review” or “rating.”

Use a credit card if you decide to go forward with a purchase, not a gift card or money order. Items on credit card statements can be challenged. Of course, your best approach is to make purchases from recognized suppliers. The same advice holds for any back-to-school items including textbooks and homeschooling supplies.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

College students and parents need to be aware that they are the center of the scammer’s bulls-eye right now. Scholarship and financial aid scams can be traps to collect so-called registration and application fees. Application forms can also be elaborate phishing expeditions to collect a wide assortment of personal information including names, birthdates, Social Security Number, driver’s license number, and more.

Avoid falling victim by investigating the offer before completing a form.,,, and the Better Business Bureau can be excellent resources.

Apartment Rentals and Moving Services

College families should also be aware of scams involving apartment rentals and moving services. While these are present throughout the year, August seems to be when the intensity of these crimes increase. While all college students can become victims, most vulnerable are those who have waited to the last minute to make arrangements and are in “panic” mode.

Avoid making these purchases online. Check that the company, agency, or landlord has a real address and contact telephone numbers. For apartments, always conduct a site visit before making any payment and only use a local company when choosing a mover.

Credit Card Offers

High school and college students increasingly fall victim to misleading credit card offers. Don’t respond to mail or webmail solicitations. Rather, initiate the contact and review the terms of the card agreement, particularly as it relates to interest rates and fees.

A good source of information is Fraudulent credit card offers can be attempts at identity theft, as the applications require inclusion of a Social Security Number as well as birthdate, address, and miscellaneous security information such as mother’s maiden name.

Public Wi-Fi

As mentioned previously, public Wi-Fi poses a danger to everyone but can be a greater threat to high school and college students. The key word is “public.” Virtually no protection exists against eavesdropping by hackers. Logging into bank, credit cards, or other sensitive sites creates a vulnerability to identity theft and scammers. If you are away from what you know is a secure network, use a VPN or connect through the hotspot application on your cell phone. Both of these provide the necessary security whether you are at a fast food location or on the street.

Social Media

Finally, know the dangers posed by social media. More than one-half of high school and college students use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. While great for being in contact with friends, quite often those who are “friended” are scammers and criminals. Be sure to only include actual people you personally know as friends or “likes.”

AARP is seeking Fraud Fighters of all ages. Contact the AARP Massachusetts at 866-448-3621, AARP New Hampshire at 866-542-8168, AARP New York at 866-227-7442, or AARP Vermont at 866-227-7451.

Have questions or comments? Contact me at

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.

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