Back to School: 6 Ways Scammers Can Exploit Students and Parents

Philip Bates 07-09-2017

Buying all new stationery. Checking if the old uniform still fits. Preparing packed lunches. Most kids hate going back to school or college after a long summer vacation.


But cybercriminals like it. Why? Because it’s another opportunity to scam folk out of their hard-earned cash.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a student or a parent 5 Back-to-School Stress Busters for Worried Parents Are you worried about homework, bullying, safety, screen time, or your child's stress level? A new school year can make parents anxious. Here are a few stress busters and parental tips. Read More . When it comes to term time, you’re a target. Here are just a few things to watch out for.

1. Malware in Online Textbooks

Buying your academic books is one of the costliest outlays 11 Thrifty Sites to Find Low Prices on "Back to School" Supplies Have you started your back to school supply shopping? Check out these money saving websites before you leave the house. Read More at the start of each term. These might simply be copies of Othello or Lord of the Flies, or something more niche like A History of Medicine: Volume 2 — Early Greek, Hindu, and Persian Medicine. If it’s on the syllabus, you’ll resent spending a lot of cash on it Back to School! Use the Internet to Save Money on Kids' School Supplies It's time to send the kids back to school, which means it's time to buy school supplies! We show you how to use the Internet so save money on their supplies. Read More .

student in a library
Image Credit: Hamza Butt via Flickr

You might understandably turn to online sources, specifically to find free downloads.


Whatever the title, it’s likely going be popular, so the chances are, you’ll find a copy. But don’t be so quick to download it. Some will be trustworthy. However, you could also be unwittingly downloading malware onto your device.

What You Can Do About It

Check whether the work is in the public domain Project Gutenberg: More Than Just Free Books Sites like Project Gutenberg, which has over 45,000 books on offer (at the time of writing), will ensure that no book will ever truly disappear. Discovering obscure works of literature is now easier than ever. Read More . Specifics vary, but anything published after 1977 typically doesn’t become accessible as such until 70 years after the author’s death. In some situations, such as anonymous texts, this can be 95 or 120 years after publication or creation date.

That is a substantially limiting factor, but does mean that you’ll be able to read copies of Shakespeare’s plays and poems The Best 13 Informative Resources for Studying Shakespeare Search for in-depth and accurate information on William Shakespeare and his complete body of work with the help of these fantastic online resources. Read More (and plenty more) on the Google Books Library Project Work How to Legally Search for Any Book Using Google Google Books puts millions of books at your fingertips. Here's what you need to know about Google Books and how to use it. Read More , and similar services.


Otherwise, check on eBay or other auction sites 13 Bargain Websites That Are Cheaper Than eBay eBay is a useful site for finding cheap deals, but don't overlook these shopping sites that can be cheaper than eBay. Read More to see if former students are selling their old copies of academic tomes. Some educational institutions have their own ordering services or student bodies passing on books. When in doubt, ask!

2. Other Free Downloads

This issue isn’t limited solely to textbooks, of course: viruses can be installed into your PC or laptop via any online downloads. Even watching a movie for Media Studies 11 Back to School Movies to Watch Online Right Now Whether you're a youngster facing the prospect of going back to school, or an adult with nostalgic remembrances of your school days, these movies should entertain you for a few hours. Read More can leave your systems open to malicious software.

The core problem is downloading from unrecognized sources (i.e. websites you’ve not visited before but trust because they purport to help your studies).

Many of us have searched for test study papers to prepare for upcoming examinations, and simply opening a PDF The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows in 2019 The best PDF readers don't cost any money. Read our roundup of feature-rich PDF viewers that out perform even Adobe Reader. Read More can result in installation of malware.


homework in front of laptop
Image Credit: Jacob Roeland via Flickr

In rare cases, sites you frequent regularly can also contain so-called “drive-by downloads,” which is a guerrilla way of installing a virus onto your device without you actively doing anything aside from typing in a URL.

What You Can Do About It

Your first line of defence should naturally be a strong security suite 4 Things to Consider When Buying a Security Suite McAfee, Kaspersky, Avast, Norton, Panda - all big names in online security. But how do you decide which to choose? Here are some questions you need to ask yourself when purchasing anti-virus software. Read More . This should alert you of any suspect links and drive-by downloads, and immediately block it. In some instances, it’ll ask you whether you meant to actually download something; you might think this means a test paper, film, or piece of music The 8 Best Free Online Music Streaming Services With No Limitations Want to listen to free music without limitations? Here are the best free music streaming services with no restrictions. Read More , when in fact, it’s warning you about a virus.

You should always ask yourself: do you trust this site? Why has it earnt such trust? If you trust it only because you’re desperate for help, that’s not a good enough reason to proceed. Similarly, if a site says it has the answers for upcoming exams, can you really be sure of its intentions?


Instead, ask your tutor for recommendations. They may provide you with links to approved resources 10 Online Study Hacks for Every College Student From sites dedicated to helping you with grammar, to free videos explaining any subject, these ten websites and study tools can completely redefine how you study. Read More , show you guidance sections on an intranet, or give you example test questions from previous years.

3. Student Discounts

The day of the pencil and notepad are far from being over 5 Ways To Kick Your Moleskine Notebook Up A Notch Over the years, the Moleskine notebook has become a trademark staple for anyone dabbling in creative endeavors. In fact, the Moleskine is almost as iconic as the Apple laptop, the hipster glasses, and the daily... Read More . Nonetheless, students are increasingly abandoning older college accessories in favor of tablets and other gadgets The Best Back-to-School Gadgets in 2016 A new year at college or school can stress out anyone. Arm yourself with the right tech gear, so that you can spend more time learning and making friends, rather than struggling with silly things. Read More .

It’s no surprise, given the number of deals and freebies offered to anyone studying. Even schools are taking advantage. The North Kansas City School District negotiated a contract with Apple to receive 15,000 iPads for all its students. Teacher, Mindy Wheeler enthused:

“Anytime you use technology, it is going to help engagement. It really pushes us out of our comfort zone, so they are pushed, we are pushed, everyone is learning together.”

But you might be tempted by emails, social media ads, or SMS promoting a giveaway, more often than not for a free tablet or laptop. Typically, all you have to do is click on a link and submit some data, which likely includes a name, email address, and date of birth.

tablet sticking out of open bag
Image Credits: Karlis Dambrans via Flickr

And you guessed it, many of them are scams. The link looks genuine, but leads to a fake website and the credentials you enter will be used by cybercriminals What Exactly Is Phishing & What Techniques Are Scammers Using? I’ve never been a fan of fishing, myself. This is mostly because of an early expedition where my cousin managed to catch two fish while I caught zip. Similar to real-life fishing, phishing scams aren’t... Read More . From this, the best case scenario is that they get to know some basic details about you. In the worst, spyware or ransomware infects your device A History of Ransomware: Where It Started & Where It's Going Ransomware dates from the mid-2000s and like many computer security threats, originated from Russia and eastern Europe before evolving to become an increasingly potent threat. But what does the future hold for ransomware? Read More , giving fraudsters leverage over you.

What You Can Do About It

The simple answer is not to get drawn into these sorts of supposed giveaways. In the off chance that it’s a real giveaway, your chances of winning are so slight, you might as well not risk it. Go through the proper channels: visit Apple or other smartphone suppliers to learn about discounts.

If you’re not hit by malicious software, you might figure scammers can’t do much with the basic personal information you’ve provided. You’d be wrong. All your data is valuable to criminals Here's How Much Your Identity Could Be Worth on the Dark Web It's uncomfortable to think of yourself as a commodity, but all of your personal details, from name and address to bank account details, are worth something to online criminals. How much are you worth? Read More , whether that’s something you think is readily available elsewhere or details that are harder to come by.

When you’re added to multiple mailing lists and get an inbox full of spam How to Say Goodbye to Hotmail Spam for Good Hotmail is unfortunately a hotbed for spam and unwanted emails. Here's what you can do to get around that once and for all. Read More each day, you’ll seriously regret taking a chance.

4. Like Farming

This is similar, but the immediate consequences seem less severe.

stack of pencils and erasers
Image Credit: Mark Bonica via Flickr

Nearly everyone on Facebook has Liked a page without putting in much thought. You’ll see a promoted page, promising entry into a prize draw if you Like it and share a post. This is known as “Like farming,” or occasionally “Like harvesting.” The whole purpose is to generate a greater following, so you probably won’t see anything negative about that.

Except after getting a certain number of people supporting it, the page’s purpose will change. They could subsequently post suspicious links or sell your data on What Does Facebook Selling Your Data Mean For Privacy? Read More . Their promotions can specifically target certain demographics, and students are likely to fall for them if they’re supposedly part of a giveaway or for a charitable cause 7 Apps and Websites to Help You Give Money to Charity Give more money to charity and become a more engaged human citizen by using these 7 apps and websites. Read More .

Essentially, you could be bombarded with advertisements, or your details could be sold on again — all because you fancied a chance at winning an iPad for your studies.

What You Can Do About It

Be more selective with what you Like on Facebook. Or indeed, who you follow on Twitter. In some cases, Twitter handles alter, so you’re suddenly associated with something you’d never consider following beforehand.

It’s really not worth it. Facebook alone can determine a lot about you What Does Facebook Know About You? Why You Should Delete Facebook What does Facebook really know about you? One thing's for sure: if you want online privacy, Facebook is best avoided. Read More just based on your expressed interests, and that’s without getting into scammers who Like farm.

5. Fake Grants and Scholarships

Tuition fees are massive, and will hang over you long after you’ve left college. No one can blame you for wanting to ease the burden by seeking out scholarships or grants 5 Scholarship Search Sites to Help Students Get Financial Aid There are a gazillion scholarship search engines and websites on the web. Each of them could potentially lead you to a fitting scholarship that could help you save a few dollars. So, here’s looking at... Read More .

yellow school bus
Image Credit: Shinichi Sugiyama via Flickr

Fraudsters will use those opportunities against you. It’s actually a huge problem because thousands of people always apply for financial aid; that’s a considerable number of pupils to exploit.

Most scams of this type will ask for money in order to enter you into a scholarship or grant lottery. You’ll write off small upfront outgoings because you’ll think them negligible and that you simply didn’t win the scholarship. It’s a shame, but you’ll figure that you’ve only paid out $10 or so. Yet that scholarship doesn’t exist How Scammers Use Phishing Emails to Target Students The number of scams aimed at students is on the rise and many are falling into these traps. Here's what you need to know and what you should do to avoid them. Read More , or, if it did, your chances of winning it are tiny.

Alternatively, you’ll hear that an application has been successful, but for funds to be released, you’ll need to pay some sort of fee to cover taxes.

What You Can Do About It

It’s difficult as these sort of scams come in many different forms. The one common factor they all boil down to, however, is that they all want you to pay.

Remember that no one can guarantee you a scholarship. Don’t trust schemes that ask for an immediate outlay of cash. There’s no proper reason you should be expected to pay for a grant of any sort.

Don’t forget to look for testimonials online. Any reputable firm will have numerous sources singing its praises.

Exact application fees vary wildly. Some might be a couple of bucks, others will be a three-figure sum. You might be assured that this is to cover administrative expenses, but don’t be fooled.

For financial aid, ask your academic institution. If they can’t help, they will likely be able to pass you onto somewhere that can. Try the College Board, a searchable database of scholarships that’s customizable so you only get relevant results.

6. Fake Shipping Emails

This isn’t an issue solely affecting students, obviously, but at this time of year, the number of online orders you place is likely to be at a high. You’ll be ordering educational supplies or maybe getting early Christmas presents Save Money and Time by Christmas Shopping Early Christmas shopping doesn't have to be a financially overwhelming experience! Follow these tips to get your shopping done early to save money and reduce stress. Read More (spreading the cost is ideal for cash-strapped pupils How to Use Social Media to Get Christmas Ideas (and Save Money!) Social media has a bad reputation. It's terrible for your security, and it eats up a vast amount of time. But rest assured, it can also be a force for good, aiding you when searching... Read More ). This, too, can be exploited by cybercriminals.

You’ll likely get lots of invoices, order confirmations, and shipping details arriving in your inbox. Scammers also send emails of this sort, often purporting to be from big brands like UPS or Walmart, informing you that there’s been a problem with your order. It probably won’t specify a product. It’ll instead opt for an order number and encourage you to click on a link to resolve the issue.

phishing attack malware warning
Image Credit: Christiaan Colen via Flickr

Emails pretending to be from postal companies might tell you postage wasn’t sufficiently paid or that they tried to deliver and you weren’t in. They’ll ask you to reschedule the delivery.

Once more, clicking on those links can lead to a virus infecting your PC. You’ll probably be redirected to a fake login page as well. It will look genuine but, in actuality, collects your username and passwords for use by fraudsters.

What You Can Do About It

Sometimes, these will be real. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t click on any links in emails 5 Examples To Help You Spot A Fraud Or Fake Email The shift from spam to phishing attacks is noticeable, and is on the rise. If there's a single mantra to keep in mind, it's this -- the number one defense against phishing is awareness. Read More . Instead, go directly to source. Open up a new tab and sign into your store account from there.

You probably don’t have login details for delivery firms, so look for a separate means of contact on their official site. Don’t go via SMS or social media accounts either as these can be fraudulent.

Textbook Scams?

The key to fighting fraud is to stay sceptical. Take basic security precautions: keep software up to date, never click links in emails, and install an antivirus suite you can trust The Best Antivirus Software for Windows 10 Want to tighten security on your PC? Here are the best antivirus software options for Windows 10. Read More .

Basically, question everything. And isn’t that exactly what students should do anyway?

Have you encountered any back-to-school scams? Are there any variants your peers need to know about?

Image Credits: Billion Photos, BonNontawat via Shutterstock

Related topics: Online Security, Scams.

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