Why young adults can be targets for scams

Student seated with a laptop in college library.

Help safeguard your children’s finances by educating them on these common scams.

For many teens and 20-somethings, the beginning of college or a new job signals a fresh start. Unfortunately, while young adults move on to this next chapter, they can be prime targets for scams. Whether your teen or young adult is renting an apartment, applying for a scholarship, taking a social media quiz, or applying for a job, review these tips to educate them on these common scams.

Scam #1: Rental scams

Young adults may move frequently, whether to a college dorm or their first apartment. However, these moves may be accompanied by the possibility of a rental scam.

In one common scenario, scammers post fake rental properties on free sites. They may look like other rental posts, complete with real photos and descriptions. Once you express interest, you are pressured to make a deposit immediately, often via wire transfer. Once the money is sent, the scammer and your deposit disappear.

To help avoid rental scams:

  • Avoid any listing that requires you to act immediately. If you cannot meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.
  • Do not send a deposit via wire transfer because a wire transfer is an immediate form of payment. Once the scammer has obtained the funds, the wire transfer cannot be reversed.
  • Be wary of poorly written correspondence or ads with misspellings, oddly written language, or unusual formatting.

Use the Better Business Bureau to research reputable property management companies.

Scam #2: Scholarship scams

Scammers target college students by claiming to offer scholarships, grants, and other financial aid packages. They may also conduct seminars and then request immediate payment in order to receive the supposed financial aid.

A scam may include a “money-back guarantee,” but the terms and conditions of the package make it almost impossible to receive a refund. Others provide nothing for your payment. Scammers may ask for checking account information, claiming it will confirm your eligibility, and then secretly debit the account. Some also ask your permission to charge a recurring fee, but even if you cancel the service, these charges continue.

To help avoid scholarship scams:

  • Do not accept offers for “guaranteed” scholarships you did not apply for.
  • Avoid services that claim you will be eligible only if you provide an up-front payment.

 Scam #3: Identity theft scams

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),1 teens and 20-somethings are the most likely of any age group to experience and report a fraud, with roughly 44% of 20-somethings reporting a financial loss due to fraud. Young adults are also active on social media and tend to share personal information, often on third-party websites or through quizzes that may capture and use this information to steal your identity. In addition, college students’ Social Security numbers and other identifiable information may be viewable on university transcripts, registration forms, or student ID cards, which could end up in the wrong hands.

To help avoid identity theft scams:

  • Remember that school mailboxes are not always secure, so have sensitive mail sent to a permanent address, such as a parent’s home or a post office box.
  • Do not loan your credit or debit card to anyone, even a roommate or close friend.
  • Store Social Security cards, financial documents, and unused credit cards in a secure location.
  • Shred unwanted credit card offers and other sensitive paper documents before discarding.
  • Switch to paperless options for financial statements.
  • Review your credit report at least once a year to look for unauthorized accounts that are opened in your name. Receive a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.
  • Consider freezing your credit with all three credit bureaus if you’re not actively applying for credit.

If you believe your account has been compromised, contact your bank immediately.

Scam #4: Job scams

Many college students reported being scammed after responding to job opportunities by email or social media, according to the FTC.2 Scammers may claim to be recruiters for corporate companies. You are invited to apply for a job that offers short hours, remote work, and a nice salary. After the interview, there’s paperwork that requires your personal information, which is their way to steal your identity. The recruiter may even provide a check to buy supplies for the job and request you send back the leftover funds from your account; this is known as a fake check scam. By the time you realize the check is fake and bounces from your account, you’ve already sent funds from your account.

To help avoid job scams:

  • Do not provide an up-front payment, bank account information, or other personal details. Verify the job offer by contacting the company directly once you’ve confirmed that the phone number is authentic. Don’t call the phone number given by the recruiter.
  • Check the recruiter’s email address and visit the company’s website. Corporate employees’ emails should come from a company address, not personal emails like @gmail.com. If the company’s website doesn’t have the job posted, that’s a red flag.

If you believe you have been a victim of a job scam, report it to the FTC.

Scam #5: Online payment scams

Today, online payments allow individuals to electronically send funds from a bank account directly to another person or organization. When sending money, online payments can be fast and simple with available payment services. While these options are convenient, they are also attractive targets for online payment scams because the money is often impossible to retrieve.

Scammers may pose as the IRS, a utility company, tech support, a real estate company, or even a friend or relative who reaches out and “needs help.” The common thread in these scams is that they often demand immediate payment. By forcing someone to act quickly, they are less likely to question the request.

When receiving an unexpected text, email, or voice message requesting a payment, do not reply, click links, or call phone numbers included in that communication. Instead, contact the person or organization directly using existing contact information to confirm the source of the request.

Some examples of online payment scams to avoid:

  • Imposter scams involve a scammer who poses as someone you trust and demands a fast payment using online payment service, a wire transfer, a money transfer company, or cryptocurrency.
  • Refund scams occur when a scammer acts as if they owe you money and pretends to send you a higher, incorrect “refund” amount. They then ask that you return the “overpayment” using an online payment service.
  • Payment app scams involve a text or email that ask you to confirm a large, fake payment. If you reply to the message, the scammer may call you back and pretend to be a bank representative.

Remember: Gift cards or prepaid credit cards should never be used for payments — such requests are clear signs of a scam.

Learn more about common scams and steps you can take to help avoid them at our Security Center.


  1. Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2023, Federal Trade Commission, February 2023
  2. “Job Scams Targeting College Students Are Getting Personal,” Federal Trade Commission, December 2023