College students are a typical target for scammers because they are quick to share personal information — both online and in person
Buddy Peaster has seen college students fall victim to all sorts of scams in his 30-plus years in campus enforcement.
The chief of police at Middle Tennessee State University says college kids are a typical target for scammers because they are quick to share personal information — both online and in person.
Peaster says the latest scam to hit his campus — and possibly others across the country — is aimed at women who are misled into buying phones under their own plans in exchange for cash with the false promise that they won’t incur any additional usage charges.
“I can only buy so many, you got an account,” Peaster says is the pitch, generally made by a smooth-talking male in his early to mid-20s. “They convince them that the phone won’t be used under their plan and even if they are, you aren’t using it, so all you have to do is file a police report.”
Peaster says the women are paid between $200 and $700 — depending on the number of phones they purchase — but the charges that inevitably end up on their cell phone bills are upwards of $1,000. So, in time, they’re in the red.
It appears that the perpetrators are shipping the phones overseas, he said.
The deceptive phone scam is just one that college students and parents should be aware of as classes begin this semester. Here are some more:
Never say never, unless it’s paying to apply for a scholarship.
“If you have to pay money to get money, it’s probably a scam,” says Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert and senior vice president and publisher of edvisors.com. “Never invest in more than a postage stamp.”
A typical scam might ask you to pay a small fee to apply for the chance at one of 180 $1,000 scholarships, Kantrowitz says. But if 100,000 people apply, then someone’s pocketing the difference and, to be sure, it’s not you.
The FTC says students should question scholarship offers that are advertised as “guaranteed or your money back,” or ones that claim, “We’ll do all the work. You just pay a processing fee.”
Kantrowitz says the prevalence of these scholarship schemes has waned since Congress passed the College Scholarship Fraud Prevention Act of 2010, but they’re still out there. He lists several scholarship matching services, which are free, on his website.
Read more about scholarship scams here.
Questionable business opportunities
College students strapped for cash may find a pitch to earn extra income quite appealing but academics are warning students about questionable multi-level marketing (MLM) companies recruiting on college campuses.
Stacie Bosley, an economics professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., says she has contacted Big Ten colleges about creating a program for students to educate them about MLMs, pyramid schemes and shady businesses. She says several MLM companies are actively contacting Hamline students.
Last year, William Keep, the dean of the business school at The College of New Jersey, issued a warning to students about Vemma, an Arizona-based MLM recruiting students on campus. (More here on Vemma’s Young People Revolution recruitment on college campuses.)
Bosley says she talks to students from an entrepreneurial perspective about a particular MLM’s business model, the risk of losing money based on a company’s income disclosure statements, and the morality of any questionable tactics used by a company.
Experts advise students to research the particular company that contacts them, read up on the differences between legitimate MLMs and pyramid schemes and to contact college officials if they have concerns.
Supposed student loan debt relief
Scammers aren’t dumb. They know that nearly 40 million Americans owe $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. So they’ve zeroed in on that vulnerable population, offering loan consolidation and repayment services for upfront fees.
“These advertisements appeal to borrowers who are struggling to repay their student loans but who are unaware of their repayment options,” Kantrowitz writes in a post on edvisors.com. “Borrowers can consolidate their federal student loans for free at StudentLoans.gov. They can also obtain flexible repayment plans, such as extended repayment and income-based repayment, without needing to pay a fee.”
In July, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed lawsuits against two companies, First American Tax Defense LLC and Broadsword Student Advantage LLC, claiming that the unlicensed operations illegally charged vulnerable borrowers hundreds of dollars in upfront fees for loan repayment services that were bogus.
Madigan’s lawsuits allege that both companies falsely claimed affiliation with the U.S. Department of Education, and that First American specifically advertised an “Obama forgiveness program” that is not an actual program.
The federal government does have a program, Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which aims to reduce monthly payments and forgive any remaining debt after 20 years, or after 10 years, for students now working in public service jobs who haven’t missed any monthly payments.
Gainful employment post graduation
And now a warning for undergrads looking to further their education after they get their bachelor’s degree.
David Reischer, founder of LegalAdvice.com, has a problem with the way some schools market “gainful employment” numbers to prospective students and their parents. His advice: Don’t let these figures be the deciding factor in attending one school over another.
“It is not uncommon to have less than 10 percent of the student body actually respond to a questionnaire,” Reischer says, “yet the data represented by the school makes it seem as if the number of students that have ‘gainful employment’ upon graduation is representative of the entire graduating class.”
Unfortunately, third-party publishers such as the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review, which claim to run independently of the schools they rank, only exacerbate the inaccuracies, Reischer says.
“These publications merely parrot the statistics provided by the schools of higher learning,” he says.
Nearly 300,000 U.S. students studied abroad for academic credit in the 2011-12 school year. While that’s only about 1 percent of the overall higher education population, it’s still a lot of students trusting that their school isn’t giving them a raw deal.
But are they getting a good deal? A proposal in the New York State Assembly would require schools to disclose in writing any perks the colleges receive from study-abroad programs and the actual costs to the school for their student’s participation.
“They work out a deal that is lower than their tuition, but the student pays normal tuition,” Ken LaValle, chairman of the Higher Education Committee, reportedly told the Albany Times Union.
Amid concerns that schools are raking in the difference between the actual cost and the one they charge, the legislation aims to “encourage transparency by informing students about the nature of a particular institution’s relationship with a study-abroad program.”
Safeguarding identity information.
Social security numbers are an identifier often required for college forms, student loans, employment, and apartment applications. But giving the number out — as is the case with any personal information — is not without risk. Here are some steps students can take to protect themselves from identity theft.
Don’t carry your Social Security card other than for the rare occasions when it might be needed. Also, do not give it out or use it as an identifier unless absolutely necessary. Just because there’s a spot for your SSN on a form doesn’t mean that you need to enter it. Students can ask to use another number as an identifier.
Don’t leave checkbooks, bills, or other documentation with identifying information in your car or backpack where it might be stolen. Likewise, be careful with the information you have strewn around your dorm or apartment, especially if you have strangers over.
Don’t give out personal info over the phone or on the Internet unless you know without a doubt with whom you are dealing. Also, be wary of posting too much personal information (address, telephone number, birthdate, etc.) online, including on social networking sites like Facebook.
Students should also monitor bank and credit card statements regularly (and dispute any unauthorized charges), employ different user names and passwords online, and make sure their computer virus software is up-to-date.
And students should also think twice about paying for identity theft protection (see our post on LifeLock). All three credit-reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax, TransUnion — offer fraud alert services for free and are required by law to make one free credit report copy eligible per year to consumers.
While prime minister Narendra Modi is talking about 'digital India', most ministries, right under his nose, put out incomplete, old and unusable data
When Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, there was one message circulating on social media and mobiles asking the reader to be patient and do his/her own bit to bring 'Achhe Din'. No doubt, there are several new initiatives by the Modi government, especially in the digital space. However, when it comes to sharing data with public, many prominent ministries, like finance, commerce and industries and power appear to provide old and outdated information.
Take for example, the 'latest' data about pension reforms, on the website of department of financial services, under the finance ministry (headed by Arun Jaitley), is from 14 August 2013 on number of subscribers registered under NPS. (see the image below)
What is more shocking is for pension schemes, all data is stored in digital format after completing the know your customer (KYC). Yet, the Ministry has uploaded old data. For example, investment returns are calculated on regular basis, and still the data on this site is dated from 31 March 2011! Similar is the status of NPS and Swavalamban schemes that were last updated on 27 October 2012.
As we all know, the PM is set to launch his government's ambitious Pradhanmantri Jan Dhan scheme to help poor people open bank accounts. However, the latest data on financial inclusion shared on the Ministry website is from March 2013. Even the month-wise report on financial inclusion seems to have stopped updating after March 2014.
Similar is the status of data shared about insurance and banking. Especially, the latest published statistics on banking is from January 2014 about overseas offices of Indian banks and list of foreign bank representative offices and branches in India. For banking related data, especially on public sector banks, there is no update on dividends paid by these lenders, their shareholders and even their financials, after FY2013.
Most of the data on insurance sector is also old, with the latest being from March 2014. This may be because, the insurance companies have to submit periodical data to the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA). However, there does not seem to be any liability (on the ministry) or verification of the data done by the finance ministry as it says, “Compiled on the basis of data submitted by the insurance companies”.
Want some more? The department of financial services, abruptly issues press releases. On its site, there are just four, yes four press releases issued between 27 August 2003 to 31 January 2013.
The 'latest' data about import of sensitive items shared by the department of commerce, is for April to March 2012!
There is one more surprise, the same department of commerce, while sharing statistics on export-imports, has a disclaimer, which reads: "The data refrenced in the system do not have any legal sancity and is for general refrence only. The user may like to verify official publications for DGCI&S, Kolkata for any further refrence". This statement even has spelling errors.
The question is why then is the department sharing the data if the user has to verify it from the same entity that had provided the data in the first place? Yes, the website states that DGCI&S, Kolkata as the source for all the data.
There are many ministries and departments, which apparently either have not heard the 'Digital India' theme from Narendra Modi or are still sleeping. According to the data shared by the Ministry of Power, headed by Piyush Goyal, who holds Independent Charge, India have not added a single unit of power since September 2013. And the data about installed capacity for renewable energy sources (RES) on its website is also as of 30 June 2013.
Above examples are just to show the mindsets of bureaucracy that as the history tells us, is the last one to change. Hope, with PM Modi's call for 'Digital India' is heard by the babus in all the ministries and they swing into action to share updated data with the public, and not just for the formality to comply with Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act!
As the first step, the government may direct 41 companies that obtained 194 coal blocks 'illegally, to return blocks where no mining activity has started
The Supreme Court has declared that all coal blocks allocated from 1993 are illegal, as these were done "in illegal manner and it suffers from vice of arbitrariness". It further states that coal block allocation done by the screening committee was not "fair and transparent". Now the Supreme Court will decide on the issue of re-allocation of mines on 1st September, just a week from now!
Additionally, it clearly directs "that the coal blocks allocated for UMPP - Ultra Mega Power Projects cannot be used for any other plant, as the blocks were allocated on tariff based bidding". The miner cannot hence, supply coal to a third party which is not the UMPP to whom the block was assigned as a captive mine.
It may be recalled, in this connection, that the exception was made by the government in the case of Reliance Power for diverting coal from Sasan Mines in Madhya Pradesh (MP) to the power project at Chitrangi, also in MP.
Out of the 328 blocks identified by the government, 218 blocks were allocated to both private and government companies. Upto now, 80 blocks have been taken back, leaving a balance of 238 for allocation.
Coal production in India has reached about 550 million tonnes (mt) and the captive coal blocks, totalling 33 were given out, with 19 of them for the private sector. Not all of them are in actual operation and the total targetted production of these blocks amounts to 110 mt. In reality, however, it is now estimated that during 2014-15, at best these blocks will be able to mine only about 53 mt.
Press reports indicate that in the private sector, companies like Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, Hindalco, Tata Power, Sesa Sterlite and Reliance Power, among others, would be affected by the ruling of the Supreme Court. All of them would anxiously await further orders from the Supreme Court on 1st September.
Under these changing circumstances, what should the government do, to ensure that work does not suffer, where the mining operations have actually started? What are the interim actions that they can take?
There are as many as 41 companies holding 194 blocks, already declared, by the Supreme Court, that these have been obtained "illegally". As the first step, the government may direct them to "return" these blocks, where no mining activity has started. When such an announcement or directive is given, they are bound to be met with a claim that they were unable to start the operations because of their inability to obtain various clearances from the concerned departments. This claim may not hold good, as now the Supreme Court has declared that the very process of their "acquiring" the block has not been in a transparent manner!
Second is for the government to appoint a separate committee to investigate the manner and method through which the blocks were allocated. Maybe, the government may instruct CBI to investigate the issue further.
The third step would be NOT to hand over any of these blocks to Coal India Ltd, which has already enough on its plate, and is unable to deliver the goods.
Fourth is for the government to clearly identify the blocks, where the allottee has done practically all the work, but is unable to proceed further for lack of final clearance. In these instances, the government may decide either to give the block back to the same company with a clear term of reference, but fine it for "managing" to obtain the block illegally, and ensure that coal production starts within a "reasonable time".
Finally, invite totally foreign players, who have proven track records in their country of origin, and ensure that they go into coal production under the FDI, bringing in equipment, technology and the rest.
We need to mine our own coal which is available in plenty. Not empty promises that we have been given so far. This whole industry needs to be restructured and reinvented to perform.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)