scholarship scamsThe end of the school year is approaching for high school students across the country, and most are turning their focus on the next step, which for many is higher education. Along with applying for acceptance to the school of their dreams comes the need to find a way to afford the costs of tuition and other expenses. More often than not, students of all financial backgrounds are encouraged to take advantage of scholarships and grants to help offset this cost. Unfortunately, as with most things in this day in age, there are plenty of scammers lurking in the shadows hoping to take advantage of students and their families by way of grant and scholarship scams. It can be difficult to be objective when what seems like a great opportunity is being given to you, but students and their parents can protect themselves from getting scammed by looking out for offers that are just a little too good to be true.

How to avoid scholarship scams

1. Use a reputable scholarship search website. Tracking down scholarships and grants that you’re eligible for can be an exhausting process, but fortunately, there are several good resources out there that you can trust to present legitimate opportunities. Fastweb is probably one of the best known scholarship search engines out there, and it provides information on financial aid of all kinds. It has strict policies in place to help ensure the scholarships students apply to through its site are not scams. College Board is another trustworthy resource — this is the organization that governs administration and scoring of the SAT — which students and parents can use to look for scholarships and grants. Finally, the U.S. Department of Education has set up its own information site to help guide students and parents through finding aid.

No matter what site you choose to use to look for scholarships and grants, remember that the same basic principles used to determine the legitimacy of any website apply: make sure the URLs match up to what the site says, look for “https” in the site address and be wary of clicking on links that might take you from a legitimate website to an insecure one.

2. Be suspicious of awards you didn’t apply for — or guarantees of money. Any student who is applying for multiple scholarships and grants can expect to be inundated with letters and emails, but it’s important to pay attention to each one and inspect it carefully. If you receive notification that you’ve won a scholarship or grant that you didn’t apply for in the first place, chances are, it’s a scam. Additionally, any organization or scholarship source that guarantees you will win money is likely not telling the truth — after all, scholarships are competitive, meaning anyone who actually gave anyone who applied money would go bankrupt pretty quickly. These types of promises are usually a trick to lure potential scam victims.

3. Never give out your confidential information or pay a fee. Some scholarship scams will lure victims in by promising to get them a certain amount of money or give them access to special opportunities in exchange for a fee. This is definitely a scam, as student aid information is available for free all over the web. If you are directed to a pay site when you try to apply for a scholarship, exit the website immediately and report the scam to the source site (if you found it on a legitimate scholarship search site, like Fastweb). Some scammers operate by presenting financial aid seminars where they use high-pressure tactics to try and persuade students and parents into paying money in exchange for information — don’t fall for this! It’s also important to remember that scholarship applications should never require confidential information such as your social security number or bank account details.

What should I do if I think I’ve found a scam?

If you are suspicious that a scholarship or grant is a scam, your best bet is to get all the information you can and report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC has a website set up that allows people to easily report scams they come across, and there’s also a phone number you can call. Additionally, you can talk to your high school or college financial aid department to get help determining whether the source for a scholarship or grant is a legitimate organization, rather than a scammer.

What if I’ve been the victim of a scholarship scam?

Worried you’ve already been the victim of a scam? Depending on the nature of the scam, once again, the FTC is a great resource — as well as your bank, if you paid a fee or provided account information, and the police. The key thing to remember when applying for financial aid is that anything which sounds too good to be true almost always is. Higher education is, unfortunately, expensive, and it’s understandable that many students and their parents would do anything to find a loophole or win as much free money as possible. However, that’s no reason to get carried away and lose sight of reality.

To learn more about avoiding all kinds of scams, follow our blog on the topic.