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Why college students and young adults are targets for scams

Scams targeting young adults For many teens and 20-somethings, the beginning of college or a new job signals a fresh start. Unfortunately, while young adults move on to this next chapter, they are often prime targets for scams. Whether you are renting an apartment, applying for a scholarship, or taking a social media quiz, follow these tips to sharpen your street smarts to help stay safe by educating yourself on these common scams.

Scam #1: Employment scams

According to the Better Business Bureau, employment scams were the top scam reported by 18- to 25-year-olds in 2018. Scammers may target students through texts, emails, or online ads and may impersonate well-known companies. After you are “hired,” the company may charge you for training and ask you to provide your personal and financial information, leaving your identity and your bank account vulnerable. Other methods may include asking you to purchase expensive equipment to work from home or “accidentally” overpaying you with a fraudulent check and requiring you to wire the difference back to them. Wire transfers are usually irreversible and you would be held responsible for covering these funds.

To avoid employment scams:

  • Watch out for listings that guarantee you a job for a fee. 
  • Be wary of unusual procedures, such as overpaying you and asking you to wire the difference, offering you employment without an interview, or promising lucrative opportunities as long as you pay for training, coaching, or other products.
  • Thoroughly research secret shopper or work-from-home postings, as well as jobs with generic titles such as “customer service rep”. Scammers often advertise jobs that don’t require special training to attract a wide range of applicants.

Scam #2: Rental scams

As a young adult, you tend to move frequently, whether to a college dorm or your first apartment. However, these moves may be accompanied by the possibility of a rental scam.

In one common scenario, scammers post fake rental properties on free sites. They may look like other rental posts, complete with real photos and descriptions. Once you express interest, you are pressured to make a deposit immediately, often via wire transfer. Once the money is sent, the scammer and your deposit disappear.

To avoid rental scams:

  • Avoid any listing that requires you to act immediately. If you cannot meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.
  • Do not send a deposit via wire transfer, as wire transfer is an immediate form of payment. Once the scammer has obtained the funds, the wire transfer cannot be reversed.
  • Be wary of poorly written correspondence or ads with misspellings, oddly written language, or unusual formatting.

Use the Better Business Bureau to research reputable property management companies.

Scam #3: Scholarship scams

Scammers target college students by claiming to offer scholarships, grants, and other financial aid packages. They may also conduct seminars and then request immediate payment in order to receive the supposed financial aid.

A scam may include a “money-back guarantee,” but the terms and conditions of the package make it almost impossible to receive a refund. Others provide nothing for your payment. Scammers may ask for checking account information, claiming it will confirm your eligibility, and then secretly debit the account. Some also ask your permission to charge a recurring fee, but even if you cancel the service, these charges continue.

To avoid scholarship scams:

  • If you are filing for financial aid, use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation.
  • Visit the U.S. Department of Education for information on how to find legitimate scholarships.
  • Do not accept offers for “guaranteed” scholarships you did not apply for.
  • Avoid services that claim you will be eligible only if you provide an upfront payment.

If you believe your Wells Fargo account has been compromised through a scam, contact Wells Fargo immediately.

Learn more about common scams and how to avoid them on the Security Center.


Shred unwanted credit card offers and other sensitive paper documents before discarding.

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