College students may not be making a fortune alongside being saddled with student loan debt, but that fact hasn’t stopped fraudsters from targeting this desperate demographic. That was the case for a 28-year old Stanford woman who was recently tricked into paying a fake tax bill on her scholarship with $8,000 worth of Apple gift cards.
According to a report in the Palo Alto Online, the victim received a phone call in April from a man claiming to be an FBI agent in California. He claimed to be helping the Internal Revenue Service collect taxes due on scholarships. The scammer informed the victim that she would face a warrant for her arrest if she didn’t pay the taxes which amounted to $8,000. The victim was informed that she had to make payment via government vouchers which were in the form of Apple gift cards. While on the phone with the purported FBI agent, the victim purchased the gift cards and provided the numbers to the scammer. Shortly after, the cards were used in a store in Tualatin, Oregon to make a bulk purchase of smartphones.
Investigators in Tualatin have contacted a 32-year old man located in the city of the crime, but no arrest has been made due to a lack of evidence, noted the report. The suspect claimed that he was told by a third party to use the gift cards to make the phone purchases.
Jennifer Massey, a spokeswoman for the Tualatin police department, told the Palo Alto Online that this is a common scam case in which the bad guys will deceive people to get ahold of gift cards and then give them to other people to purchase more gift cards, making them harder to trace. Massey wasn’t sure if the victim was still a student at Stanford University and wasn’t sure how the scammers knew the victim had a scholarship. However, she speculated that they may have had a connection to people within the student loan office. “Working in rings becomes a lucrative business,” said Massey in the report.
Impersonating scams has long been a preferred method to trick consumers into handing over money. Many successful scams capitalize on the fear and uncertainty of victims who feel they could get in trouble with say the IRS or another government agency. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), many of the scholarship scams use high pressure sales tactics to get people to pay money upfront only to get nothing in return. In some scams, the companies tell students that they have been chosen as finalists for awards that require an upfront fee to hold their spot.
To avoid becoming a victim to scholarship scams and impersonators, the FTC recommends students be aware of telltale signs they are about to get scammed including requests for upfront fees, high pressure sales tactics, requests for credit card or bank account numbers for any reason, or unsolicited calls from people claiming to be government officials or representatives.
“Many legitimate companies advertise that they can get students access to lists of scholarships in exchange for an advance fee. Other legitimate services charge an advance fee to compare a student’s profile with a database of scholarship opportunities and provide a list of awards for which a student may qualify. And, there are online scholarship search engines. The difference: Legitimate companies never guarantee or promise scholarships or grants,” wrote the FTC on its financial aid scam page.
Author: Dave Rathmanner
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