"Only bad things can happen:" 'Card cracking' a scary scam that targets college students & other young adults

MILWAUKEE (WITI) — College students beware! A new scam known as "card cracking" could send you into unexpected debt. Social media plays an integral role in this scam that could have life-long consequences.

Here's how it works: Someone contacts a student via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and sets up a deal. The person asks if they can use a debit account to deposit a check and promises the person half the money deposited.

If the victim agrees, there's often a deposit in the bank account followed swiftly by a withdrawal.

"The victim thinks that they are going to get a portion of that deposited item, but they never do," said  U.S. Postal Inspector Vic Demtschenko.

When the deposit turns out to be a counterfeit check, it evaporates and the victim is on the hook for any money withdrawn from the account.

The scam is not just spreading on social media. Postal inspectors say scammers are soliciting people at college campus parties.

"They'll demonstrate they have a lot of money. They will throw wads of cash around and act in that manner to try and entice people to give up their ATM card," Demtschenko explained.

Ringleaders target college students because they think the can be easily convinced that their only role is to allow use of their account and they will get to keep half of the money.

"Early 20s, maybe a little less mature, and don't really understand the banking system and may need a way to get some money. They may be college students, for example, or young adults that need cash," Demtschenko said.

But victims are not just depositing the fake checks — they're giving scammers access to their bank accounts.

There are many different versions of the crime.

"There are some instances where young adults thought that they were applying for a college grant and, in reality, they were being asked to provide their debit cards," said Demtschenko.

While most people might find it hard to believe anyone would hand over their ATM information, postal inspectors say many students are often naive about finances.

"When you go off directly to college from high school that is a big transition from, you know, being under your parent's roof to potentially going out to a college campus as an 18-year-old with very little life experience and almost no knowledge of the banking system," Demtschenko said.

There are many long-term effects, including years of credit problems.

"Employers aren't going to look very kindly upon someone that's involved in a criminal scheme," Demtschenko revealed.

It's important for parents to advise their college-age students how to protect their personal information.

"They need to keep their debit cards in their wallets or in their purses, and never relinquish control of it because only bad things can happen if you do that. If you give it to a stranger — you are opening up a whole Pandora's box of potential problems,"  Demtschenko said.

ATM cards and campus IDs that often double as ATM cards along with PIN numbers need to stay private.

Also, use hard-to-guess PINs on all accounts and do not autofill passwords on mobile devices or computers.