College Students: Beware of easy money scams

Financial Education
Sep 01 2015

By Caitlin Graham

Being part of a generation that’s used to befriending unknown people over the internet makes distinguishing a scam from an actual job/investment opportunity difficult. And scammers are upping their game. It’s easy to avoid the obvious ones: the twitter posts with sketchy links about “losing weight fast” or even the ones about “making money from home,” but when a friend gets hacked or falls for the scheme and starts sending you messages about a “stay at home job” where you sell a questionable item (like energy drinks), it becomes harder to tell what’s a con, and what’s not.

Last semester, a friend of a friend started selling energy drinks for this energy drink company (let’s just call it Energy). Now, to get involved with Energy, the friend of a friend (who we’ll call Stewart) had to spend AT LEAST $250 on merchandise, ranging from energy drinks to other questionably consumable items. Since this is a “once in a lifetime” type of con, Stewart sends in the money immediately and gets his merchandise a month later. Now, this doesn’t seem so strange. Many companies require you to pay a fee for the merchandise so that if you disappear with it, they still get the money. However, the only way to make money from this so called “amazing opportunity” with Energy was to get other people to sign up and buy energy drinks too.

To make matters worse, Stewart became curious as to why Energy was so bent on selling their product. So, he opened one of orange canned energy drinks and took a swig, then proceeded to spit it into a trash can. After he opened it, we all tried it (by we I mean his roommate, my roommate, and me) and it was awful, like dentist office toothpaste awful. It even had the gritty texture of the dentist toothpaste. Anyways, with $250 of horrible tasting energy drinks sitting in boxes along one of the walls in his dorm, Stewart was forced to not only throw these disgusting drinks away, but to scam others in order to get his money back.

However, the sad thing about Stewart, was that he never saw it as a scam. The people that got him involved in Energy were higher up in the “hierarchy of vendors.” One man in particular showed off an expensive car with Energy logos and bragged about making upwards of $20,000 since he’d started recruiting people. They’d become friends over Facebook, and eventually Stewart gave the man his number. They’d talk for hours about the “awesome ideas” they both shared. These ideas usually rotated around getting other people involved and the ways in which they could persuade the most people to sign up. They never met in person, but rather communicated through texts, phone calls, and pictures of the things the Energy scammer had purchased with his “earnings” from the company. This is why Stewart; the poor, unsuspecting college kid; fell for the “once in a lifetime opportunity” presented by mystery man and his seemingly expensive vehicle.

For months, all Stewart did was brag on Energy, supposedly making a chunk of money every time he signed someone up, and even when someone he signed up recruited new people. But the money never came. There were excuses made, with Stewart bumbling on about “being too new in the company to get a paycheck.” It’s been almost a year, and as far as I know, Stewart hasn’t received even a dollar. This is only one of the many scams that are out there, especially for kids going to college who need the money. For more information on scams like this one and how to avoid the online scammer, check out Beware the Digital Pump and Dump on The website is sponsored by FINRA, and might be able to help you determine if that guy trying to get you to sell diet pills or energy drinks is legitimate, or just another scammer.  


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