Returning from summer vacation often means back-to-school for the kids. However, as expected, cybercriminals are also preparing for this day — but their curricula are far from educational, unless you’re a victim learning your lesson. Disguised as seemingly innocuous things in emails or on social media — such as soccer league registration, government financial aid or textbook and uniform sales — back-to-school phishing and identity theft scams are out there and waiting for you to take the bait.
Social media marketplace phishing is very active throughout the back-to-school season because parents and students hope to buy or sell second-hand school-related items, such as textbooks or uniforms. When buying on a social media marketplace, a scammer might ask for payment in advance using an online payment service — however, the item you think you bought never arrives. If you’re the seller, the scammer might offer up some very unusual way to send you the money in exchange for the item.
Identity theft scams during the back-to-school season include targeting parents of school-aged children and college/university students. They do this by sending elaborate phishing emails about extracurricular activity registration or financial aid applications. Cybercriminals tend to phish for children’s social security numbers and personal information because they’re highly valued and easily sold in underground online marketplaces.
Protecting yourself from back-to-school identity theft scams:
- When registering yourself or your children for extracurricular activities, always verify the links and email addresses included in an email or on a webpage.
- When in doubt, check with the school or the extracurricular activity organizers by calling or emailing them directly. Use the contact information from their official webpage.
- When asked to share any personal details, such as your social security number or the local equivalent, ask yourself why it would be necessary, and then ask the people who are requesting it.
- Never share your child’s full name and birthdate in exchange for discounts or goods. This information can be used quite easily for identity theft.
Protecting yourself from social media marketplace phishing:
- If a marketplace transaction smells phishy, such as insisting you use a different platform to continue the conversation, or they want to receive your item for sale using an obscure and complex tool or service, disregard that person and move on to the next one.
- If they ask for too much information, including your address, social security number, or credit card details, it’s definitely a scam.
- If the transaction needs to happen now — or you risk losing the opportunity — let it go.
- Trust your instincts. If it looks like a phish and acts like a phish, it’s probably a phish.