Study: College Students Increasingly Victimized by Phishing, Cyberscams

Mark Richardson | California News Service
Officials say California college students are increasingly under attack by phishing attacks, where scammers try to fool a student into giving them money or their login information. Photo Credit: rawpixel / Adobe stock

Studies show that college students are a target for phishing scams, and cybersecurity professionals say swindlers are increasingly targeting California students.

Phishing scams often trick victims into revealing their login or other private credentials by pretending to be a legitimate company or figure.

Byron Johnson is the associate vice president for technology solutions and innovation at California State University, Long Beach.

He said the scams are often threats to lock students out of their computers or a bogus job offer aimed at getting personal information.

“When people get phished, the phisher – the scammer – in particular are looking for things of their monetary value, whether it be gift cards or cash,” said Johnson. “In general, students aren’t inherently wealthy, so they’re not going to get large rewards. But I think over time, it adds up.”

Researchers at Penn State University found that online scams aimed at college students increased significantly between 2014 and 2022.

They say universities are often easy targets because many publish email addresses in student listings.

Johnson said one tactic phishers use is to get control of a student’s login, then use that “friendly” ID to get other students to open the bogus email.

In response, he said Cal State Long Beach officials have posted a listing of known scams online for students to check before answering a suspicious email.

“We’ve partnered with our Career Development Center to try to raise awareness of these sorts of scams,” said Johnson, “and we’ve also tried to alert students and educate them through orientation.”

He said they plan to continue fighting the scams.

“I think there’s a high level of success in phishing and targeting college students in particular,” said Johnson. “We’ve seen some success on our campus, and I know we’re not unique. Phishing is real. It does happen on college campuses. And here’s what you need to do to be aware of these sorts of scam vectors.”

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.