Back-to-School Fraud 101
After a long, relaxing summer, it’s time for students around the U.S. to begin preparations for a return to school. While this time of the year may not be a favorite for students, it’s certainly enjoyed by online fraudsters who look to exploit the occasion for their own gains. That’s why "back to school" fraud was recently cited by the Better Business Bureau as a major cause for concern as swindlers try to take advantage of inflation and product shortages. Whether you’re a student or a concerned parent, there’s no better time to read up around this issue and to formulate plans to stop it in its tracks.
The back-to-school season presents a prime opportunity for online fraudsters. In fact, it’s often overlooked how much money gets spent during this period. According to the National Retail Federation, 2023 will be the most expensive back-to-school shopping season ever, with overall spending expected to surpass $135 billion, an increase of more than $24 billion from the previous year. Whether it’s a need to buy books, purchase uniforms, or just sort out miscellaneous school supplies, the back-to-school period is full of spending.
A Growing Threat
To put that figure into context, Deloitte predicts the average U.S. family spends $597 per child in the lead up to term beginning. With this much money moving around, it’s little surprise that online fraudsters and financial criminals are looking to pounce. What’s more, crooks are also likely to use the period to push fraudulent financial aid and student scams. Unfortunately, these attacks can also prove to be highly effective, often coaxing unsuspecting victims out of sensitive information or money.
Thankfully, there are ways for families and students to mitigate the worst effects of this growing issue. Being able to recognize the main warning signs of back-to-school fraud, and understanding the methods used by fraudsters in pursuit of this goal, is of paramount importance. With this information, individuals can ensure they’re identifying and stopping fraud before it’s able to affect them and others.
Too Good to Be True?
Let’s start with a simple fact: Fraudsters tend to be very smart, but ruthless. To this end, they'll often look to push scams on people they feel might be vulnerable. Right now, between the rising cost of living and escalating inflation rates, the average American family increasingly fits this criteria. Unfortunately, this creates an even greater incentive for fraudsters to push scams during the back-to-school period. In fact, many of us in the online fraud and financial crime prevention community are bracing for a busy period to help support businesses.
Whether it’s launching phishing attacks, creating fraudulent websites, or sending fake emails purporting to offer great deals or promotions to trick unsuspecting consumers into providing personal and financial information, fraudsters are bound to be very active. As a result, it’s essential for individuals to be highly vigilant, especially in situations where they’re asked to provide sensitive information, such as payment details. Where possible, people should use trusted merchants with solid reputations and strong customer reviews.
If looking into offers on less renowned websites, individuals must proceed with caution. For one, ensure you’re verifying the URL address before clicking it, assessing it for any misspellings, extra characters or unusual domain names. Additionally, look for "HTTPS" and the Padlock Icon in the URL bar, as this is often used by legitimate websites to secure data used in transactions. Ultimately, if something feels off about the website that you’re using, then it’s always better to be safe than sorry and use an alternative provider.
Similarly, individuals should be suspicious of any offers they receive via email or text which may seem too good to be true. Once again, always ensure you’re properly checking the sender’s email address as fraudsters often use email addresses that may resemble legitimate ones but contain slight misspellings or variations. Be cautious of emails from addresses that look unusual or unfamiliar. Likewise, be highly skeptical of emails that contain spelling or grammar mistakes or that use generic greetings such as "Dear Customer."
Passing the Test
Right now, many families across the U.S. are struggling financially and will be on the lookout for offers and discounts that allow them to limit the cost of the back-to-school period. Unfortunately, fraudsters are also very aware of this fact and will inevitably look to target individuals with back-to-school-related scams in the run up to September. Hopefully, by studying some of the tips provided in this article, individuals can ensure they’re doing all they can to stop these attacks.
Staying cautious, verifying websites, and using common sense goes a long way in protecting people against fake websites and potential online threats. Schools and educational institutions should also look to play a role in further mitigating this threat by educating students and parents about common scams and online safety practices. By working together and acting responsibly, parents and students can help prevent scammers from getting an A+ in fraud this year.
Matt DeLauro is chief revenue officer at SEON, a provider of fraud prevention tools.
Matt DeLauro is chief revenue officer at SEON where he helps the company align to the evolving fraud prevention needs across a number of industries, including Banking and Payments, BNPL and Online Lending, iGaming and Casinos, Securities Exchanges, Travel & Hospitality, E-commerce and many more.