NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Parents of college-age kids who head to the tropics for spring break already have enough to worry about, but now there’s another headache to add to the list: the threat of scammers.
If you get a phone call from “authorities” telling you that your child is in trouble and that it’ll take a big bank payment to bail him or her out, it’s most likely a scammer trying to spring break your bank account open.
After all, your college-age son or daughter is probably mature enough to stay out of trouble on vacation. Only 8.5% of college students said they did “something they regret” over spring break in 2011, according to a survey by CampusBookRentals.com. The survey also found that the average student only spends about $200 during spring break.
But fraudsters can still take advantage of distracted college kids – and easily. All a scammer needs is a driver’s license left in a bar or a college I.D. left on the sand after a long day on the beach. From there, scammers use the data they find to call the parents and tell them that cash for a medical emergency or “jail bail” is needed – and fast.
Fraud experts call this the “family scam,” and its high time on the calendar is March, when spring break is in full bloom.
“Spring break can be a letting-go experience for parents of college students,” notes Kim Garner, a senior vice president of global security for MoneyGram, a Dallas-based money transfer company. “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.”
What does MoneyGram advise? Here’s a quick look:
Tell the government where you are. Students who travel overseas should sign up with the U.S. State Department’s “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program”, which helps U.S. authorities to track down a student in an emergency.
Call for a “check-in” time. Parents should mandate a specific time for students to call in every day, just to make sure they’re OK. Getting the number of the hotel or house your kids are staying at is also a smart idea. Also, get the cellphone numbers of any friends traveling with your son or daughter.
Just say no. MoneyGram is strict with its advice to “never wire money to anyone you don’t know.” If you’re unsure, call the local authorities where your child is vacationing and tell them what’s going on, as they should be able to confirm whether the request is legitimate.
Go the ‘temp’ route. Parents can always temporarily add a son or daughter to a credit card and establish pre-set spending limits to make sure they have emergency cash when they need it and also to monitor what purchases are being made and when. Just be prepared for the nightmare scenario where the card is lost or stolen – let your card carrier know immediately if that happens. But in general, a card in the hand should head off any scammer who makes a fake request for an emergency wire transfer.
Best of all, talk to your child before he or she hits the spring break trail, and keep a cool head if a stranger calls with a distressing message.
“The best way to ensure a safe spring break and avoid a scam is to talk to your child in advance about these types of precautions, and schedule regular contact so you can hear directly from them that they’re safe,” Garner adds. “While the student is traveling, parents should focus on their own protection against scams by never sending money to anyone they don’t know, regardless of what the individual on the other end of a phone might be telling them.”
Those are wise words, because after all, somebody has to be the adult when spring break calls.
If you're looking to travel but your tight budget means you have to avoid peak times like spring break, check out MainStreet's rundown of the Cheapest Weekends to Travel in 2012 for your options!