Helping students fight online fraud

  • Students are a prime target for online criminals, but universities can help by making young people aware of the dangers
  • As well as identity and credit card theft, phishing scams are being used by criminals to target student loan money
  • Despite students being ‘internet savvy’, many are not aware of the risks attached to online fraud

As students increasingly conduct more of their lives online, they are becoming prime targets for criminals. Young people living away from home for the first time, and often unused to dealing with money, are seen as easy prey by online fraudsters.

Their use of social media makes their movements easy to track, and along with the more established frauds, such as identity and credit card theft, criminals are targeting student loans through practices such as phishing email scams, aimed at conning students to reveal their account details.

The Student Loans Company has seen nearly 3,000 cases of accounts being diverted since April 2011.

“Fraudsters usually target students at the three main [student loan] instalment dates,” says Heather Laing, Head of Counter Fraud Services at the Student Loans Company.

Becoming a victim of fraud

Students can easily become victims of fraud. Criminals only need a few pieces of information to successfully assume a new identity or gain access to financial resources.

“Students are reminded never to post their personal details anywhere online, especially on social media sites which fraudsters often check for information,” adds Laing.

With the internet increasingly being used as the go-to place for shopping, banking and social networking, online fraud is becoming more prevalent. Over half of all Britons have now experienced an online crime, with an estimated £670 million now lost annually nationwide to the most common types of online fraud.

From fake emails to advance-fee frauds, malware, hacking of email/social media accounts, bogus websites or simply being careless with bank details online – students must always remain vigilant.

Social networking sites can also be used by scammers to target students, with victims being befriended in chat rooms and then persuaded to send criminals money or sensitive personal information.

Avoiding the scammers

Students can avoid online fraud by only allowing remote access to their computer from trusted sources, creating hard-to-guess passwords, using up-to-date antivirus software, leaving firewalls switched on and not opening suspicious or unknown emails, such as fake e-scams from fraudsters impersonating banks.

Also, before entering payment card details on a website, it is imperative students make sure any link is secure.

It is vital, too, to keep all credit and debit cards and financial details safe, check statements regularly for unusual transactions and ensure no-one else knows PIN details. Plastic card fraud can also include ‘card not present’ fraud, such as the use of a card online.

If, however, a fraud has been committed, it is important to act quickly to prevent further loss. Reporting any suspicious activity immediately to either a bank or the national fraud reporting service can help to get things back under control.

Impact on universities

Despite students being ‘internet savvy’, many are not aware of the risks attached to online fraud. As well as monetary losses, there can also be the emotional impact to contend with – including the loss of irreplaceable photos, videos and personal emails.

And universities may have to deal with the fallout, with students who are unable to pay their fees, and stressed young people seeking help and advice.

Universities should ensure that students are made aware of online fraud so that they can help mitigate their risks. For instance, phishing scams can bring in many millions of pounds from their victims, but by quickly informing students about a spate of recent phishing attempts, universities can greatly reduce its local impact.

By regularly communicating risks, universities can greatly increase the safety of their students and help them make the most of their college experience.