Wanted: Your Campus ID

Credit Card Scheme Targets University Bookstores

Stock image depicting a person passing a credit card to a cashier.

Students at colleges and universities across the country are being warned of a credit card scheme that enlists them to help purported classmates buy high-end electronics at their campus bookstores.

A number of universities last spring reported their bookstores lost thousands of dollars in purchases that were made with stolen credit card information. Investigators found similar patterns in each of the cases: perpetrators claiming to have lost their student ID cards enlisted unwitting students to essentially vouch for them at the counter with their valid IDs. The perpetrators then made their purchases—in many cases, high-end electronic products—with a bogus credit card that matched their bogus identification.

Investigators believe campus bookstores may be targets for this scheme because they generally offer specific discounts for students, who may not see anything wrong with helping out an unlucky stranger claiming to be classmate.

“Students are being used to facilitate this activity,” said FBI Special Agent Jennifer Gant, who manages the Bureau’s Campus Liaison Program, which started in 2008 to help improve communications between the FBI and U.S. colleges and universities. The program originated in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division as a way to build relationships and increase two-way information sharing before a crisis. Each of the Bureau’s 56 field offices has a special agent or task force officer whose duties include building and maintaining connections with school leaders and campus police in their regions.

“If we have information, we share it with them—because our ultimate goal is to keep campuses safe,” Gant said.

In June, the FBI released a public service announcement through its campus liaison agents warning of the credit card scheme. The announcement offers the following tips on how to protect against the scam:

  • For students, don’t agree to facilitate a purchase for someone who does not have a valid student ID.
  • For school administrators, establish a procedure at your campus bookstore that includes a provision against allowing a purchaser to use a credit card in someone else’s name.
  • For victims, notify campus police or campus public safety.

The June announcement says schools began reporting the fraud last April and sustained losses of several thousands of dollars in each occurrence.

This was not the first announcement warning students they may be targeted in fraud schemes. In May, the FBI warned students about a fake “education tax” scam, where perpetrators call students, claim to be from the IRS or the FBI, and demand immediate payment with the threat of arrest. Another scam involves criminals contacting students’ parents, claiming their kids have been kidnapped, and demanding ransom money be sent to a third party for the safe release of the students. The students are often in class at the time and cannot answer phone calls from the parents, furthering the plausibility of the scam. Other scams are variations on common fraud schemes, where scammers pose as someone they are not to elicit sensitive information (names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, bank accounts) to advance a crime.

If you believe you are a victim of a scam, contact your local authorities or, in the case of online crimes, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/complaint. Crime tips can also be submitted at tips.fbi.gov.

“If we have information, we share it with them—because our ultimate goal is to keep campuses safe.”

Jennifer Gant, special agent, FBI Campus Liaison Program