Fraud takes many forms and scams have been around for a long time. With the emergence of the internet and social media, it’s become much harder to identify who is legitimate and who is the fraudster. Even the brightest students and their parents can fall victim to the schemes of scammers. Avoiding scams requires constant vigilance in order to be able to detect them before they take advantage of you.
Top 6 College Scams
- The Tuition Scam
Beware the email or phone call from someone claiming to be from the college admissions department. Sometimes fraudsters spoof IDs to make it look like a real organization. They call to offer a financial aid package designed to get both your (and your parents) personal information and up-front money for things such as tuition payments or other fees.
Instead of working with the person on the phone or via email, call or go to the college’s admissions department directly. Double check to make sure the assistance being offered is legitimate.
- The Scholarship Scam
The internet has made it much easier to find a scholarship or grant. Beware the scholarship search sites that portray themselves as being a benevolent tool created for the purpose of helping the masses find money. Some of these sites are traps only designed to get you to type in your personal information. Once they have this information, they can then sell it to a spam organization and your email in-box will be filled with junk. Avoid sites that require you to input information about yourself. Also avoid sites that require you to pay for a service that helps you find and/or apply for scholarships. These sites rarely do anything that you couldn’t do for yourself. Stick with the free scholarship search tools and research each award’s legitimacy before submitting an application.
Be wary if you hear someone say “The scholarship is guaranteed or you money back”. No one can guarantee that they’ll get you a grant or scholarship. Refund guarantees often have conditions or strings attached.
Also be wary of the “Scholarship Prize” scam where you are told you’ve won a scholarship worth thousands of dollars, but requires you pay for the taxes on the money or a fee to release the funds. If you never entered a contest, ignore the material.
- Social Media Scam
Scam artists have seized the opportunity to prey upon young adult’s adoption (or addiction) to social media. One technique involves scammers setting up fake pages for universities and reaching out to the potential students to get their email addresses. Phony pages and profiles are created to harvest personal information. At best, the student gets a mountain of email spam. At worst, it could result in identity theft. To avoid these scams, add only friends you know, limit the information you post online, and be wary of invitations to “like” pages.
Watch the Wi-Fi connections as well. Hackers and thieves prey on people who use Wi-Fi in non-secure locations such as coffee shops, restaurants and parks. They can set-up an alternative Wi-Fi site that will mimic existing Wi-Fi sites. Once someone has connected to their “dummy” site, they are able to steal a person’s personal information.
- FAFSA Assistance (for a fee)
There are a variety of websites that offer to help with the filing of the Application for Federal Student Aid forms. But these sites are not affiliated nor endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. And, the Department of Education recommends avoiding these sites as families can get assistance for free elsewhere. Specifically, the financial aid office at the college or university you’re thinking about attending, the FAFSA’s online help at fafsa.gov or the Federal Student Aid Information Center.
- Low Interest Loans and Online Books Scam
This scam offers you an unusually low-interest educational loan with the requirement that you pay a fee before you receive the loan. When you pay the money, the promised loan never materializes. Real educational loans never require an up-front fee when you submit an application. If the loan is not offered by a bank or other recognized lender, then it is probably a scam.
Also, never buy books online without first checking out reviews and checking with your college. Sometimes, it is just a front to steal your identity.
- Social Security Number Scam
Never, Ever, give out your Social Security Number. If your credit card number is stolen, you can have it changed. If your Social Security Number is stolen, you can’t change it and the scammer has the ability to take over your life.
Follow these rules of thumb and you should be able to avoid the majority of education scams that are out there.
- If you have to pay money to get money … it’s probably a scam
- If it sounds too good to be true … It’s probably is so trust your own intuition
- Invest the time, not the money
- Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships
- A legitimate scholarship guarantee does not exist
- Legitimate scholarship programs never charge application fees