McClatchy Newspapers

Fort Worth, Texas – Phil Banker said he “freaked out” when he saw his bank account balance after buying a $100 cell phone with his debit card. The receipt showed that $1,919 was missing from his checking account.

The money was spent in the Baltimore area a place he had never visited.

Banker, then a University of North Texas senior, called Wells Fargo Bank, the company that issued his debit card. He suspects that his debit card information was stolen after he bought a textbook over the Internet in 2008 from a company he didn’t completely trust.

“They were selling this textbook at a radical discount from anywhere else,” Banker said. “So I took a chance, and I got burned for it.”

Identity theft and scam investigators say they hear stories like this all the time. College-age Americans are not the most likely age group to become victims of fraud ,those ages 25 to 44 are, according to a 2004 Federal Trade Commission report. But college students’ love affair with technology, and sometimes their naivete, makes them vulnerable, experts say.

Colleges and universities add to the problem by issuing student identification cards that double as debit cards or allowing credit card companies to market their products on campus, some say. And credit card companies are expected to scramble this fall to sign up college students before a new federal law takes effect in February that will restrict their practices.

Many scams against college students are hatched online. Students often fall victim to work-from-home, Internet sales and identification scams, said Owens, who has investigated scams and identity theft for 18 years.

“Because they’re on the Internet so often, and they do so much of their stuff online, I do see them fall victim to a lot of the Internet fraud scams,” Owens said.

Students’ mailboxes will likely be stuffed with credit card offers because of the federal Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009. Effective Feb. 22, the law prevents credit card companies from giving students gifts in exchange for credit card applications and from sending offers unless the student agreed to have them sent.

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