How Can Parents and Students Avoid Back-to-School Scams?

Pittsburgh Consumer Fraud Attorneys at East End Trial Group Advocate for Clients Taken Advantage of by Scammers.

As students return to school, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce cautions all parents to be alert for fraudsters and scams while shopping online for school supplies and clothing. The agency reports that there is a significant rise in fraudulent shopping scams during the back-to-school shopping season.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, more than $5 billion worth of counterfeit and pirated goods are traded internationally every year, largely due to the ease of online purchases and sales. However, there are ways to accomplish your school shopping safely and securely.

The convenience and hassle-free shopping online for back-to-school items has made it a very popular option for many parents, especially if they are purchasing supplies for multiple children. Unfortunately, the back-to-school season has become a popular time for hackers to set up scams and steal consumers’ money and personal information. Fortunately, you can better protect yourself if you take a little extra time researching websites and following these recommended tips.

Too-Good-To-Be-True Scams

Beware of too-good-to-be-true scams that offer a particular item at a much better price or shipping time than others. Chances are it is a scam that involves scammers compiling popular items and offering them to consumers at discount prices. While you may think you are getting a great deal, you are more likely just supplying your payment information to hackers.

Before checking out, check the URL for the secure checkout lock icon and any misspellings. If you do not see the lock icon or there are incorrectly spelled words, do not purchase.

Use Credit Cards

When making a purchase, use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit cards have increased security during online shopping that most debit cards do not. Credit cards embedded with EMV chip technology make stealing your information much harder for hackers and scammers.

Additionally, credit cards are not tied directly to your bank accounts like debit cards are, meaning even if a hacker is able to steal your card information, they will not have full access to your bank accounts as well. Credit card companies often offer much better fraud protection as well.

Check Out as a Guest

When checking out of an online store, most websites offer you the option of signing up for an account or to check out as a guest. When you create an account, you are providing your personal and financial information to the website to store for future purchases. Should the company suffer a data breach, you could have your identity stolen and used to set up accounts and credit cards in your name. Checking out when online shopping eliminates the risk of your information being stolen because it will not be stored.

Change Passwords

Though everyone knows not to use the same password for multiple accounts, far too many people do, putting themselves at serious risk of identity theft and loss of money from multiple avenues. Once a scammer is able to determine your password, they will attempt to use it for every account. If you use the same password, they will have access to all of your information for every account. This can have serious repercussions for you, particularly if they drain your bank accounts of all funds. Using different passwords for every account minimizes the risk.

Bait-And-Switch Scams

Online scammers are savvy when it comes to technology and creating a fake store website designed to look like the true retailer’s website. Check the URL for misspellings and the checkout lock before entering your payment information.

A little extra research may go a long way in protecting you as well. Search the website’s name to see if others have posted negative reviews or any other adverse information about the store. If the site is one you have never seen, nor heard of, it is probably best to avoid shopping there.

Avoid Clickbait

Consumers are constantly bombarded with store advertisements. Be cautious of these ads when shopping, as utilizing fake advertisements in order to pull you to another site to make a purchase is one of the most common scams in online shopping.

Rather than clicking on the ad, open another tab and type the store’s name into the search bar to see if a legitimate website exists. If you choose to shop there, note the privacy policy and contact information, and always purchase with a credit card.

Uncheck the Box

Though illegal, many businesses utilize check boxes that sign you up for recurring charges, unsolicited emails, offers, and more. Before checking out, read the fine print and look for pre-checked boxes. Uncheck them before proceeding if you do not agree with the terms.

Set Alerts

Credit card companies and banks typically offer some kind of fraud alert related to their credit and debit cards that alert customers of questionable activity on their cards or accounts. In most cases, you can set different alerts that notify you quickly when fraudulent activity is detected, such as transaction amounts, charge frequency, or purchase location. Banks typically also offer fraud alerts tied to your financial accounts as well.

The Better Business Bureau recommends taking the time to check their website for ratings and reviews of businesses you intend to purchase items from. This is an especially important step if the retailer is not one you are familiar with or have heard of before.

For big-ticket items, such as laptop computers or tablets, do your homework. If your child’s school does not require specific technology, research brands, prices, warranties, and customer reviews in order to find the best option for your child and your wallet. Additionally, many stores and software companies offer discounts for students, usually available by submitting a school-affiliated email account ending in “.edu” or supplying a copy of a student identification card. Be sure to inquire whether the item or service you are purchasing offers a student discount.

If not listed in the school material lists, ask the school about technical requirements to ensure you are purchasing compatible equipment. Keep in mind that in some cases, you may need to make changes or upgrade your home’s internet services, which could result in an increase of your monthly bill.

What Are Common College-Targeted Schemes?

College students are frequent targets for hackers and scammers. Some of the most common college-targeted schemes include:

  • Financial aid: There are many scams offering scholarships, grants, or financial aid for tuition. A scammer makes an unsolicited call, letter, or email with the offer but requests an upfront fee for processing the application. Legitimate programs do not require fees and do not contact you unsolicited.
  • Unpaid tuition: For this scheme, scammers contact the student or parents claiming that the tuition bill has not been paid and ask for payment information. Typically, they announce that if the bill is not paid immediately the student’s enrollment will be terminated. Before acting, hang up and call the school yourself to verify whether tuition has been paid. Generally, colleges and universities send a written letter with a paper copy of the bill and do not call and demand immediate payment.
  • Textbook purchases: Scammers create fake websites offering discounted textbooks, but do not deliver the books to students when purchased, leaving the student with no books and less money.
  • Fake housing: Fake rental agents solicit students to rent an apartment or other property on behalf of the building’s owner, promising to show and hold an apartment for the student if they pay an upfront fee, neither of which happens once the student pays.

In addition to scams, college students are common targets for credit card companies. Representatives often set up a sign-up table in the first week of school and solicit students to sign up for credit cards. While this is not necessarily a scam, students often do not fully understand the financial responsibility when making purchases and find themselves in debt very quickly. This debt frequently causes problems for parents as well, as they are often listed as co-signers when their student applies for a card.

Pittsburgh Consumer Fraud Attorneys at East End Trial Group Advocate for Clients Taken Advantage of by Scammers

Back-to-school shopping is a favorite time of year for scammers and thieves who set up fake websites, sell counterfeit goods, or solicit various “fees” for non-existent services, costing their victims a lot of time and money. Our skilled Pittsburgh consumer fraud attorneys at East End Trial Group can help you obtain justice if you have been scammed. Call us at 412-223-5740 or contact us online to set up a free consultation. Located in Pittsburgh, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.

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