Q: Now confronted with the challenges of COVID-19; what support or advice may BBB provide graduates as they start careers?
A: This year's class of college graduates is getting ready to start their new lives! It's a big transition that includes several important changes; complicated even more by the Coronavirus pandemic. Grads may be moving to a new city, finding a new place to live, or searching for a new job. Graduation also often means new financial responsibilities, such as starting payments on student loans.
College graduates are navigating many life changes, and scammers are eager to take advantage of their inexperience. The following tips can help new grads avoid common scams.
Know the terms of your student loans. One of the most common ways scammers target college graduates is with fake loan forgiveness opportunities. You may receive an unsolicited email, phone call, or text message stating that you can qualify for lowered payments through a debt forgiveness program. To use the company's services, just fill out a form and pay a fee. Some of these companies are real, but they pitch their services with false claims and incomplete information. Other companies are fakes, only hoping to get their hands on your personal information and money.
Scammers may also contact college grads regarding student loan repayment hiatus that's a response to COVID-19. In the United States, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is pausing student loan repayments through 09/30/20. Scammers may claim that to take advantage of the program, you need to complete a form or pay a fee. In reality, your student loan payments are automatically paused.
Understanding the ins and outs of your student loan - what kind of interest you owe, when you need to start paying (in most cases you won't need to make a payment until six months after you've graduated), and for how long you'll be expected to make payments - will protect you from these scams. If you are unsure how the CARES Act affects your student loan, find out on official government websites, such as ed.gov and studentaid.gov.
Be wary of unsolicited messages about unpaid tuition. Some con artists contact graduates or their parents claiming some of their tuition was left unpaid. If it isn't paid immediately, the graduate's degree will be revoked. Scammers may ask you to send money via wire transfer or prepaid debit cards.
Whether you are contacted by phone, email, or text message, be wary of anyone who contacts you out of the blue. Government agencies, as well as most higher education facilities, will contact you by mail initially. If you aren't sure if a message is legitimate, do some research to verify the person's claims? Ask to contact them later. Then, investigate by looking up information on the official website or calling your school's accounting office. Don't give in to pressure to make a decision right away.
Do research before accepting jobs or job interviews. Scammers may offer recent graduates high paying, easy, entry-level jobs. Con artists are skilled at drawing new grads in by promoting unrealistic wages for generally labeled job positions, such as "virtual assistant" or "customer service rep." They may ask for your personal information, including your bank account and Social Security number, claiming they need it to set up direct deposit or file taxes. In other cases, scammers require you to pay for training. In yet another version, you may be "accidentally" overpaid with a fake check and asked to send back the extra funds.
If you are considering a job with a company you aren't familiar with, do some research before you complete an application or agree to an interview. Make sure the company has legitimate contact information, and the position is posted on their corporate website. Scammers often steal the names of real companies for their phony job postings.
Watch out for rental scams. Find a gorgeous apartment in a trendy neighborhood at an affordable price? There's a good change that it's a scam. According to a recent survey by Apartment List, 43% of people looking for a rental online have encountered a bogus listing.
In many cases, scammers simply copy the photo and description of a real property. Then, they post it online with their own contact information and try to get a deposit and first month's rent from the victim.
If you are looking to rent a home or apartment, find out how much other rental properties in the area cost before you sign a lease. Scammers often lure victims by promising low rents, extra amenities, and a great location. If the price seems much better than offered elsewhere, it may be a scam. Also, be sure to see the apartment or house in person. Don't send money to someone you've never met for an apartment you haven't seen. If you can't visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised. Finally, read lease agreement documents before you sign. Don't be embarrassed to consult with friends or family members who may be more knowledgeable on the subject if you have doubts or questions.
Visit www.bbb.org to read more about scams targeting current college students. For tips for avoiding scams while job hunting, check out BBB's report on employment scams. See this BBB investigation for more tips on rental scams.
To learn more about scams and how to avoid them, visit BBB.org/AvoidScams.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga