Suspended for Complaining About Spam

Email IconFor some of us, this story doesn’t sound odd at all.  A college student activates his campus-based debit card in order to get his financial aid payments to pay tuition, and the next day he is getting spam email in his campus email box offering to sign him up for credit cards.

How many times have we gotten spam email in an email account that we know we used to sign up for something innocuous, like an email newsletter, a sweepstakes, or yes, the bank.

I know it’s happened to me.  I actually never sign up for anything online unless I’m using a web-based email with a good spam blocker (gmail or Yahoo mail), or using a single email address on my domain that I can set a spam killer on.

The college student’s complaint was that he didn’t want to sign up for the debit card to begin with, but it was required in order to get his financial aid payments, so he activated the card.  Immediately he started getting spam email and knew that his email address had been sold by the financial institution that provided the debit card for students on campus.  This type of activity (the school requiring use of a school-issued debit card) is actually very common across the country.  The campus I worked for previously used the same type of system, as does the campus I currently work for.  What is annoying is how student’s email information is being sold by whatever bank is actually running the debit card system.

These systems are big business for the banks, and for the campuses themselves, who get a cut of the debit fees that are charged to the cards when they are used outside of campus systems.  And of course, there’s this ancillary business going on, where the banks, and then other vendors who have bought the student’s information, can start selling things via spam emails to unsuspecting young people.

Spam works because people click those links and buy those products, whatever they are. You wouldn’t think anyone would click on, and then buy, some of the items that end up being advertised in spam emails.  I regularly get requests to evaluate my insurance coverage, enlarge my male anatomy (and I’m not even male!), buy tobacco products or drugs, order replacement windows, visit a dentist, or hire a personal injury lawyer.  I get at least one email a day asking me to buy a “genuine” Rolex watch for $14.95, and sign up for nursing classes to boot!

It is also well-known that banks and other lenders try to get in the pockets of unsuspecting and naive young people, as well.  Create a life of debt for those students as they travel through their college years, building up a debt that may never be paid off in their lifetimes.  They have to make money somehow, right?

So, this student initiated his best attempt to fight back against his campus.  Unfortunately for him, in this age of zero tolerance, and campus shootings, he was suspended immediately.  He is fighting the suspension and may have won a reprieve after explaining himself.  He’s 19 years old, it’s not like he really has learned other ways to fight the system yet.  His frustration is understandable, too.

Dishonesty in business practices has always riled people up.  I know it bothers me a great deal, when I feel I’ve been lied to or compromised in some way, due to nothing I did.  And whoever took this student’s email information and shared it, whether it was the bank or the campus, should be ashamed of doing so.  Such things should be an explicitly opt-in activity.  A student’s on-campus email box should be reserved for official campus communications, interactions with instructors and classmates, and for sharing of information about coursework or other student activities.

I hope this student’s suspension is lifted so that he can continue his education.  I also hope that the campus takes another look at how it does business in this case, and protects students from these types of invasions of privacy.

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