Saying “pretty please” or “abracadabra” won’t guarantee you a scholarship. Neither does falling for the too-good-to-be-true scholarship service scams promising to “do all the work” in finding exclusive scholarships in exchange for a service fee and personal identification numbers.
According to College Board, scholarship scams affect nearly 350,000 students and families each year, costing them more than $5 million annually.
Chris Long, President of Cappex.com, a free online scholarship matching service, shares the common red flags to watch for when looking for scholarships, so you and your teen can filter through the frauds and find legitimate ways to pay for college.
Red Flag #1
Don’t give out personal information like Social Security numbers or bank account information.
“If you’re asked for things such as your Social Security number when applying for a scholarship, that’s a red flag. You may be asked to provide that information if you win the scholarship, but even in that case, I’d advise you to ask the scholarship provider if that information is absolutely necessary and how it will be used before providing it,” Long said.
Red Flag #2
Don’t pay a fee upfront when applying to a scholarship.
“A scholarship provider should be giving you money—not the other way around! If you’re asked to pay an application fee, look elsewhere—legitimate scholarships
won’t ask you to pay a fee,” Long said.
There may be an exception if you’re paying a consultant, however. In those instances, be sure to thoroughly research the background of a private advisor before paying for their services.
Red Flag #3
Don’t accept unsolicited “too good to be true” scholarships.
“Free money is one of the best things out there, but even free money doesn’t grow on trees: You still have to apply. If someone told you that you’ve won and you never applied, it’s likely a scam,” Long said.
Being able to recognize these red flags will help you make wiser decisions in your scholarship search. Be sure to take advantage of the overwhelming amount of free services and resources out there like FAFSA.gov or Cappex.com to help you find money for college.
If you feel you’ve been a victim of a scholarship scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission or call the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-MIS-USED