Don’t fall for these back-to-college scams

Scammers already have hit the phones trying to trick cash-strapped college students into handing over money.Ferris State University students started receiving calls in mid-August from someone who claimed to be a college official from the campus in Big Rapids.

The scare tactic: A threat that a student’s classes will be dropped — unless the student pays off an outstanding debt that’s owed to the university. Payments must be made immediately over the phone.

But the university warns that it does not do such business over the phone. Instead, payments must be made in-person or online through the secure eBilling portal. Students who received the scam calls or provided financial information over the phone were asked to call the Ferris Department of Public Services at 231-591-5000.

It used to be that the college checklist centered on making sure you packed the bath towels, the bedding, socks and underwear, plenty of school supplies and, oh yes, a surge protector. Now, you’ve got to stock up on scam alerts, too.

Con artists love to take advantage of anyone who is stressed out during the days leading up to the next semester. So, the scams need to be discussed each and every year as the kids go off to college.

I warn my 20-year-old son so frequently about these scams that he joked the other day that he texted his Social Security number to some guy who just called. I asked him if he didn’t text his birth date, too. My son replied: The guy already had my birth date.

But the sophisticated scheming isn’t a joke. “You hear stories about more and more phone calls,” said Anne Wohlfert, Michigan’s acting deputy state treasurer.

And she noted that there are more cases of scammers taking advantage of students who are vulnerable.

“They can send you a text message on your cell phone and they can make it look like it’s official,” Wohlfert told me in a phone interview.