Spring break is just around the corner and college students everywhere are preparing for a much needed change of pace. For some students that change may simply be a week of rest and a chance to catch up with friends. Other students may be using the time to work to supplement their cash flow for the second half of the semester. But for many students Spring Break is synonymous with travel.
If your college student is headed to warmer climes over break, especially if he is heading to one of the more popular student destinations, we hope that you’ve already had some conversations about staying safe. As a parent, you may be entirely comfortable with your student’s plans, or you may worry about this significant “letting go” experience. Unfortunately, many scammers understand your fears and are ready to prey on them.
Students receive many warnings this time of year about staying safe while away on break. They are told to party safely, watch out for one another, travel in groups, and watch carefully for opportunities for identity theft. It is important for parents to reinforce those messages.
Parents, too, need to be aware of spring break scams. According to MoneyGram International, one of the most troublesome outcomes at this time is the prevalence of the “family scam.” Parents might receive a call from someone claiming that their student is in trouble and asking the parent to send money either for medical help or to pay bail. It is the last thing that a parent wants to hear.
If you receive a call asking for money, the first thing is “Don’t panic!” “Spring break can be a letting-go experience for parents of college students,” said Kim Garner, Senior Vice President of Global Security for MoneyGram. “But along with letting go, parents should hang on to their common sense, especially when it comes to helping their kids stay safe and avoid certain common scams.”
The second thing is not to do anything until you verify the information. The caller may have done his homework. He will know your student’s name and may even know a license, ID or credit card number. A wallet or phone left unattended on the beach may be all that it takes to get the information that he needs.
Ask to speak to your son or daughter. If that isn’t possible call local authorities to confirm any information that you’ve been given. Check in with friends that may be traveling with your student. Don’t take the caller at his word. Don’t transfer any money until you have verification. If the emergency is legitimate, legitimate sources will be able to confirm the situation.
In addition to being skeptical if you get what might be a “scam” call, there are a few things that you and your student can do ahead of time to prevent this type of situation.
- Talk to your student before break about safety and staying wary about possible ID theft.
- Have your student enroll in the U.S. State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
- Be sure to have the phone numbers of some of the students traveling with your student (promise that this will be only for emergency).
- Arrange a regular schedule for your student to check in with you. It might be a call or simply a text just to let you know that all is well.
- Consider giving your student temporary privileges on your credit card. You can set a limit and track the spending. You will have the peace of mind that your student will have access to the account in the case of an emergency.
Most students who travel for Spring Break have incident free experiences. They spend time with friends and have an opportunity to unwind. However, a bit of preparation and knowledge on the part of both students and their parents will help everyone feel more comfortable with the situation.