Financial aid scam targeting students

By Holly Wells
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Callers try to trick students by telling them they received large government grants

Students are always looking for help when it comes to tuition and other school costs, but police warn students to be wary of scams that could end up costing them money.

Four Tucson students have reported a scam to police in which a person calls students to say they have received a grant and then asks for personal financial information.

Laura Mercer, music education senior, said a couple weeks ago she got a call from someone who told her she had received an $8,000 government grant.

Mercer said she was suspicious and asked if she could call back.

"But he said 'no,' I needed my grant access code first," Mercer said. "Then he needed to confirm my address, phone number and banking information."

Mercer said after the caller asked for her banking information she knew it was a scam and hung up.

Before school started, two Pima Community College students received similar calls. They were told they had received a grant and needed to pay a $250 fee to get it. Along with the $250 fee, the students were also asked for their banking information. Both students suspected a scam and called police.

Sgt. Eugene Mejia, UAPD spokesman, said that since then two UA students have reported that they have received similar calls.

"The person who's initiated the scam will continue to try and victimize students in order to get money," Mejia said.

Mejia said UAPD is trying to warn students of the scam so that they will know how to deal with the situation if they are called.

"University officials, banking institutions and even credit card companies will never ask for your personal information over the phone," he said. "Just hang up; don't give out any information over the phone."

Mercer said she knew it was a scam because she'd seen similar stories in the news.

Students should be aware of the scams, Mercer said.

"If people don't know about these scams, they could potentially have all of the money in their bank accounts stolen from them," she said.

Mercer said she thinks the people who are doing the scams are "pathetic."

"Go out and get a real job and stop trying to steal from innocent people," she said.

Rachel Banning, family studies and human development sophomore, said she never gives out personal information over the phone.

"It's kind of stupid that they're targeting students," she said, "They're preying on people who probably don't have much money to begin with."

Keith Cummings, chemistry sophomore, said he thinks college students are targets because students are always eager to get a grant or any type of financial aid.

Mejia said although it is sometimes possible to trace where the call is coming from, it's often difficult.

"These people try to use systems that are hard to trace, which makes additional work for us," he said.

Mejia said often the people conducting the scams have tapped into someone else's phone line and are making the call from that line rather than their own.

Mejia said along with the financial aid phone scam, there is a financial scam involving Citizens Bank.

Recently a UA employee was sent an e-mail from Citizens Bank asking him to update his personal financial data.

The employee became suspicious because he did not have an account with Citizens Bank.

Mejia said after hearing about the scam he called Citizens Bank and they said they had received numerous reports of the scam and had posted a warning about it on their Web site.

Mejia said if students or employees receive an e-mail that looks like it's from a bank or credit card company, they should call the bank or credit card company to verify it.

"If you're the one who called the bank, it's highly likely its legitimate, but if it's someone who calls or e-mails you it should raise a red flag," Mejia said.