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Gen Zers and Millennials: Targets of Fraud

By: Dr. Thamara Barthelus

In today’s uncertain economy fraud is proliferating. Nefarious predators view economic crisis as an opportunity to cast their net of deception into the sea of vulnerable victims. Among those most affected are young people.

Recent research indicate Gen Zers, i.e., those aged 18−24 years, have become hot targets for scams. According to the Federal Trade Commission, young people report losing money to fraud more often than adults do. While much focus has been placed on the elderly, recent data has awakened us to the reality of financial victimization of young adults. A recent study indicated that 43% of people in their 20s reported a loss to fraud, while only 15% of people in their 70s did (Witt, 2019). Although “digital natives” consider themselves tech savvy, they are more willing to share their personal information online without much hesitation. BBB’s ScamTracker Risk Report highlights the severity of this problem by revealing that 41.6% of college students suffered a financial loss when approached by scammers.

So, what are the schemes and traps set by fraudsters against Gen Zers and Millennials? According to a survey conducted by FraudSmart (2019), young adults aged 18−24 were targeted in the following manner:

  • 31% were targeted via email
  • 26% were targeted via calls to their mobile phone
  • 22% were targeted by a text message
  • 12% were targeted on social media
  • 5% had been targeted via card skimming

Below are the TOP 10 scams used to defraud young adults:

  1. Social Media Phishing: Scammers send private messages posing as a trustworthy source, such as a bank or a school. The aim is to entice their victims to enter their personal or financial information in an attempt to steal their information.
  1. Gift Card Scams: The most common scam of this type involves the scammers stating that an unpaid bill is currently delinquent and must be paid over the phone or otherwise swift legal action would be taken. While some will request the funds be wired, others prefer the amount owed be placed on a gift card. The most popular cards requested are Google Play, iTunes, Amazon, and Best Buy. Some scammers are even bolder and direct their victims to a particular store near them, such as CVS, Walmart, Walgreens, or Target. Once the card is purchased, the scammer will request the gift card number and pin. After receipt, the caller accesses the funds and ends the call.
  2. Online Romance Scams: Referred to as the “419” scam, it has allowed fraudsters to acquire millions from their victims, who are typically found via dating sites and chat rooms. Once they have identified a victim, they develop an emotional relationship that results in the victim sending money to the perpetrator in order to pay expenses for him to visit the victim. Although the funds are sent, the visit never takes place. The perpetrator gives some plausible explanation for the failed trip and continues requesting funds until the victim is broke. Realizing this, the fraudster moves on to his next victim.
  1. Scholarship & Grant Scam: The growing number of students pursuing higher education has created new scamming opportunities for fraudsters who create fake scholarships and request personal and financial information, resulting in identity fraud. Some sites also request a processing fee.
  2. Fake Sweepstakes & Contests: Under this scheme, scammers convince their victims that they are winners of a contest/sweepstakes. They are then required to pay certain amount to receive the prize or provide personal information.
  3. Instant Cash Schemes: Get-rich-quick schemes are proliferating on SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms. They appear as pop-ups. Once clicked, the perpetrators convince the individual to enter his/her banking information, allowing them to withdraw funds from the victim’s account. 
  1. Online Shopping Scams: When using this scheme, fraudsters create a phony online store with popular brand products sold at discount. After purchasing, the victim either receives a low-quality product or nothing at all.
  1. Employment Schemes: Fraudsters are increasingly advertising “work-at-home” employment opportunities on social media platforms such as Craigslist and Facebook, targeting college students and graduates in need of extra cash. Such jobs are presented as an opportunity of a lifetime, urging the victim to act fast to secure the position, usually by paying an upfront fee and/or providing personal and banking information. Once received, scammers are able use the victim’s information to commit identity fraud. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has identified 10 ways to recognize a job scam. To find a legitimate job:
    1. Use reputable websites
    2. Stick to jobs you have researched and have applied for
    3. Research the legitimacy of each business through the Better Business Bureau’s website
  1. Fake Checks: While there are several variations to this scam, the most common target college students looking for a roommate or seeking employment. In the case of the college roommate, a security deposit will be mailed for greater than the amount required. The victim is asked to deposit the check and send the remaining amount to the prospective renter. Unfortunately, after withdrawing the funds, the check is returned by the bank as invalid. The same concept applies for employment. The victim is mailed a paycheck or payment for purchasing supplies. Again, the check is an overpayment for which the scammer requests the difference. This often leaves the victim with an overdrawn account. 
  1. COVID-19 Phishing Scam: The goal here is to steal student identity by sending an email from the university’s “financial department” regarding an economic stimulus check. To obtain funds, the student is asked to enter personal information, which will result in identity theft.

How to Avoid Scams

  1. Keep Personal Information Safe: Avoid giving a caller or a company you are not familiar with your personal information. If the caller claims to represent a particular company, research the company and call the number linked to the company, not the one provided to you by the caller.
  2. Avoid Paying Unfamiliar Debt Upon Request: If you are not familiar with a bill, do not let scammers force you into believing it exists. A major red flag is the threat of immediate legal action if the debt is not paid that instant. Do not allow yourself to be bullied by scammers.
  3. Hide Your Passwords: Do not share your password with anyone.
  4. Avoid Providing Passwords: Legitimate companies will never ask for your password. This includes tech support. If you receive an email with a link requesting your personal information or password, consider that a red flag.
  5. Do Your Research: Look for online reviews of companies you are unfamiliar with. This can be done by entering the company’s name in the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website at You can also search the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) site for scam alerts.

What to do If You’re a Victim of Fraud

Many victims of fraud do not report scams or identity theft due to embarrassment. Always remember, fraudsters are very savvy. They continuously develop new methods of scamming honest people out of their hard-earned dollars. Even the most knowledgeable and well-informed individuals can become victims. If you find yourself in this frustrating dilemma, there are steps to take to ensure that you do not become a victim twice.

  1. File a Police Report: Since fraud is a crime, it must be filed with law enforcement. Once filed, keep a copy of the police report. You will need the case number when contacting the credit bureaus.
  2. Contact Your Financial Institution: Notify your bank that you are victim of fraud. An alert will be placed on your account. You may be asked to verify the last cleared and pending transactions made by you.
  3. Contact Credit Card Companies: As federal law limits your responsibility for fraudulent transactions, reporting the loss as soon as possible is highly recommended. If the company is notified prior to fraudulent transactions clearing your account, you will not be responsible for the transactions. Even if reported after transactions have accrued, you can only be held responsible for $50 of the charges.
  4. Notify the 3 Credit Bureaus: Request that an alert be placed on your credit report using the following links:,, and
  1. File a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Use the link or call 1-877-FTC-HELP
  2. Document Your Actions: Create a file of all the correspondence you had with each entity notified. It may be valuable information needed later.
  3. Order a Copy of Your Credit Report: After placing an alert, review a copy of each credit report.
  4. Change Online Passwords & Pins: Be sure to create challenging passwords. There are products that will assist you in creating passwords that are difficult to hack.

Where to Report Scams

To report scams, start with the Consumer Protection Office in your state. Once the federal government has become aware, it will begin tracking fraud patterns and notify the public. Specific scams can be reported to the following agencies.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

  • Fake Checks
  • Computer Scams
  • Scholarship/Student Loan
  • Sweepstakes
  • Phone Calls
  • Emails
  • Imposter Scams

Website:  FTC Complaint | Phone: 1-877-382-4357

IRS Scams

  • Robocalls
  • Threats of Arrest or Lawsuits
  • Demands for Payment

Website: Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) | Phone: 1-800-366-4484

Social Security Scams

  • Suspension of your social security number
  • Cancellation of your social security benefits

Website: Inspector General | Phone: 800-269-0271


Baxter, L. (2017, July 27), Who is most susceptible to scams? Retrieved from–who-is-most-susceptible-to-scams-.html

Beware the fake check scam targeting college students. (2020, February, 4.). Retrieved from

Bryne, H. (2019, July 5). Half of young adults are targeted by fraud scams each month. Retrieved from

Witt, P. (2019, February, 28). The top frauds of 2018. Retrieved from