Preventing Fraud in Crisis

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Preventing Fraud in Crisis

Lady with dark hair and glasses looking concerned at her laptop.

In times of crisis, fraudsters thrive. People are often distracted or unfamiliar with the economic environment – that leaves them open to attacks. While students may be accustomed to fraud attempts, experiencing an economic crisis caused by a public health crisis as an “adult” is new, and it may have many of them distracted. In 2008, when the housing crisis led to an economic downturn, the amount of fraud attempts began to rise. And according to CNBC, the U.S. is seeing a similar trend during the coronavirus pandemic. Many phishing attempts are taking advantage of the government’s stimulus announcement, and using email or text messages to ask for bank account numbers in order to deposit checks.

Other fraud attempts come from “companies” stating that they have a cure for the virus or claiming to be a non-profit asking for donations. Keep in mind that staff or students who are ill, or know someone who is, are susceptible to these fraudulent attempts to sell cures. Those who are grieving or feel inspired by tragic events to help others may not be as careful about confirming non-profits asking for donations are legitimate. Add in the various social engineering tactics attackers often use, and it can seem nearly impossible to avoid the threats.

All of these attempts are currently being monitored by the Department of Justice and measures from organizations like NACHA are being taken to protect online payments. But it’s equally important for you to stay vigilant – whether you’re working from or browsing at home.

How can your institution and students stay safe during this time? Here are three ways you can help monitor for fraud during COVID-19.

Avoid Financial Assistance Scams

Students are in a state of high transition and worried about rounding out the school year. They may be very concerned about how they’re going to afford tuition in the fall — or simply focused on if they’ll be able to pay the full balance for this spring semester. During times of crisis, fake loans (along with tuition payment and loan repayment scams) bombard students with promises of relief for paying off their education or paying off debt. With COVID-19, new scams have also targeted students with the promise of helping obtaining government stimulus or unemployment checks.

A wave of robocalls have come with this, for example, offering help in the form of holding interest on federal student loans — even though the government is already regulating this assistance. Communicate often to your students about what’s being done at the federal level for student loan interest, directing them to credible sources, such as Advise students to hang up on robocallers as soon as they receive these calls and let them know that if they press any additional numbers it may lead them to get more of these calls from scammers in the future.

Verify Who People Say They Are

According to, high volumes of fraud come in the form of first-party fraud.

“Forced to rely on credit for everyday expenses, some legitimate borrowers may take out loans without any intention of repaying them — greatly impacting an organization’s bottom line … They may resort to the misuse of a family member or friend’s information to commit fraud. In fact, according to Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2019 Identity Fraud Study, the rate of familiar fraud more than doubled last year, from 7% of fraud victims in 2017 to 15% in 2018.”

As students call into your institution for refunds, payment plans or other needs, have set ways of verifying a person’s identify over the phone. Be sure that students are aware of the credentials needed to communicate about financial matters during this time. Report that you are using additional verifications to protect students from scammers — and inform them that phone calls may take longer.

Communicate clearly to students so they know how you’ll be reaching out to them regarding refunds, and remind them that they should never be asked to provide personal information, such as their Social Security number, over the phone. Fake calls can use phone numbers that look very similar to your institution’s number. You don’t want students providing personal information to anyone (but especially scammers) when students think they’re talking to your business office about a refund.

Prevent “Zoombombing”

Yes, Zoombombing. It’s a real word that’s surfaced since the start of COVID-19. Zoom is a very popular tool for video meetings. Since it’s free to use, it’s become increasingly popular for work and home meetings. To join a Zoom meeting, all you need is a simple link — if someone unexpected has access to that link, they’re able to listen in on private calls and distract your team or class. USA Today has several tips to prevent this — from being wary of Zoom meeting links to modifying your screen sharing options.

As you and your teams adjust to working and learning remotely, continue being cautious — especially online. If you see anything strange, let your IT teams know. And know that Nelnet Campus Commerce is here to answer questions or support you, however we can.

Jordan writes strategic B2B and B2C content for a variety of industries, including K-12 and higher education. Outside of the office, you can find him experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen or catching up on the latest podcasts.


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