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Student loan scams – How to stay safe online at university

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September saw millions of UK students head to university.

During this exciting time, they’re busy discovering all the new aspects of student life – meeting dozens of people, entering halls of residence and familiarising themselves with lecture halls.  With so many distractions at hand, they’re unlikely to be thinking about the fact that with a new term and a new financial responsibility, means they have also become vulnerable to falling victim to a very targeted scam.

With more than £2 billion in payments having hit the accounts of students across the country, fraudsters have seized the opportunity of a new academic year to scam victims through phishing – a type of correspondence where the attacker purports to be from a reputable organisation to gain personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. In this case, they pretend to be from the SLC (Student Loan Company).

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to affect the most financially vulnerable – including students – staying safe online has never been more important. Cunning cybercriminals know that for many students, having a loan will be their first experience of managing a large sum of money. They use this knowledge to prey on those who are least expecting, therefore it’s important to remain vigilant.

To ensure students are protected, they need to know what to look out for and how to take precautionary action, while organisations have a responsibility to educate and warn about known risks.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

More than half of the global population use social media, and being opportunists, fraudsters know how to stalk people’s platforms, or contact them via these channels, to gain personal information. This has greatly increased the chances of being scammed online; cybercriminals glean personal information to impersonate people elsewhere or trick them into revealing more valuable information about themselves, which they can use to steal money.

Additionally, we know that fraudsters use timely tactics to target people when they may be expecting contact from a legitimate organisation. In this instance, cybercriminals pretend their correspondence comes from SLC (a trusted source) to trick students into disclosing personal details or encourage them to click on links in emails and text messages which could install malware.

Remember that genuine organisations would never pressure you into sharing information, so take a minute to question the legitimacy of a correspondence. Are there spelling errors? Are they asking you to respond urgently to prompt a rushed response? If you have any suspicions, trust your instinct and call your loan provider to double check before sharing anything.

Take Precautions

On an individual level, safeguarding your online footprint requires a combination of comprehensive online protection software, along with good user hygiene, such as strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.

It may sound simple, but it will go a long way in deterring these cruel and opportunist hackers.

Students should also be wary about the information they share online. We all post updates about our life, where we live, our friends – details which are a valuable commodity to cybercriminals. If they can find out information about your university or college, for example, they can use this to make the scam appear more legitimate.

Additionally, consumers can change a few habits to stop social engineers in their tracks. Firstly, scammers often target people who act rashly because of strong emotion, so slow down before responding to that urgent message or clicking a link, and consider whether it might be a scam. Lastly, always create a strong, unique password. It might seem unnecessary to create individual passwords for different accounts, but scammers use these to gain access to all your accounts, so the more comprehensive you can be, the better.

Protecting People

In the last three years alone, SLC’s dedicated Customer Compliance teams have stopped £1.2 million being lost to fraudsters from students’ bank accounts. The expert teams have a range of methods and fraud analytics to stop scammers in their tracks, but students need to know that they are the best and first line of defence.

Email scams are still the most common, with 96% of phishing attacks occurring this way, while text message scams – where fraudsters try to encourage people to click links to malicious websites – are also commonly used. Equally, scammers might call you or leave messages on your voicemail impersonating a trusted source. Something we’re seeing more and more is scammers creating a malicious ‘free Wi-Fi’ hotspot that appears to be legitimate to access peoples’ phones and computers.

Organisations have a responsibility to their consumers. Especially the most vulnerable. It is important for companies to issue warnings, like SLC has done in the past, to protect their customers. Educating people is the number one way to prevent cybercrime and making sure individuals know what to look out for and how to safeguard their information can make a huge difference.

University should be one of the happiest and most exciting times of people’s lives. Students shouldn’t have to worry about falling victim to loan scams, so by following these simple steps, they will ensure they stay safe online and have a fantastic experience.

By Vonny Gamot, Head of EMEA, McAfee

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