Many college students are newbies at managing their own finances, making them attractive targets for a new type of phone scam that aims to steal their money and personal information.

The scam is a variation of the “imposter” telephone scam: The scammer calls college students and claims to be from the FBI or other U.S. government agency, “spoofing” a local telephone number to appear legitimate on the receiver’s caller ID. The scammer tells the student he or she owes money on student loans, unpaid taxes, or outstanding parking tickets. He then threatens the student with arrest or failure to graduate unless the student immediately settles the fees. Payments are required via untraceable methods such as MoneyGram, some other preloaded debit gift card, wire transfer, or cashier’s check.

According to the FBI, the scam targeting college students has occurred in over eight states so far: North and South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Nebraska, Montana, and Washington.

While the criminal’s primary goal is to coerce college students into sending money, there’s a second, more pernicious scam going on: to trick students into sharing their personal information to supposedly help expedite the process. That can easily morph into ID theft.  

Phone Protection 101

It’s never too early to learn how to spot and avoid common scams. Start by following these three steps:

  • Don’t believe what you hear. Government agencies will never call you out of the blue—not the FBI, the IRS, financial institutions, or the judicial system. They will never ask for payment or personal information over the phone.
  • Don’t believe what you see. Caller ID can be—and often is—spoofed. If you want to verify a call, look up the website or telephone number yourself. Don’t assume that the link or customer service number provided is legitimate; it may lead you right back to scammers.
  • Do check your credit report regularly. Signs of identity theft often first show up in your credit report. The government-sanctioned website allows you to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies every 12 months—in other words, once every quarter. Reviewing your reports regularly helps you spot signs of identity theft early. You will be asked to supply your date of birth and Social Security Number.