(StatePoint) Average college costs have doubled in the last two decades, and this financial pressureÂ along with new technologiesÂ makes todayâ€™s students particularly vulnerable to financial aid and scholarship scams.
â€œScammers know to take advantage of those who are stressed,â€ says Robert C. Ballard, president and CEO of Scholarship America, the nationâ€™s largest nonprofit scholarship and education support organization. â€œFortunately, there are some ways you can avoid getting duped.â€
To help you spot scams, Scholarship America offers the following insights.
Fees and Other Red Flags
Scholarship programs charging a fee to apply often look legitimate. But look at the bigger picture: if the provider is awarding $500 in scholarships and collecting fees from thousands of applicants, itâ€™s not funding education so much as making money. Your chances of earning a scholarship are slight if not impossible -- sham providers often collect fees and disappear.
Some providers claim to have a no-strings-attached grant or an incredibly low-interest loan to offer, as long as you pay a tax or â€œredemptionâ€ fee in advance. Others offer to match you with guaranteed scholarships -- if you pay for a premium search service. Keep in mind, thereâ€™s no such thing as a â€œguaranteed scholarship.â€
Too Good to Be True
Be wary of the â€œtoo-good-to-be-trueâ€ scam model: an official-sounding organization tells you about an incredible opportunity, offers you a coveted spot at a scholarship seminar, or just sends you a check with a note of congratulations, using messaging designed to get your adrenaline pumping and make you act fast.
Remember, scholarship providers arenâ€™t in the practice of sending funds out randomly; itâ€™s likely the check will bounce, or youâ€™ll be asked to send money back for â€œprocessingâ€ or an â€œaccidentalâ€ overpayment. Your safest bet? Tearing up the check and, if you have time, filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Often unexpected â€œopportunitiesâ€ are attempts to get you to divulge personal information. Even clicking on links can expose your data to scammers.
Be cautious: Google the name of the scholarship or organization. Scams have often been flagged by the FTC or Better Business Bureau.
A new scam making the rounds starts with a random friend request on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Accept, and your new friend will start messaging you about a foolproof way to make money for college: they work for a scholarship provider and have found a loophole. They just need to enter you as a winner and you can split the money.
If this was real, itâ€™d be incredibly unethical. However, in the midst of stress, you may be tempted -- and that could cost more than money. While you may be asked to send cash as an advance, most such scammers are phishing. Give them enough info, and youâ€™ll be worrying about getting your identity back.
For more scholarship tools, resources and opportunities, including the annual Scholarship America Dream Award, please visit scholarshipamerica.org.
â€œScholarship scams seem to work just enough for people to keep trying it,â€ says Ballard. â€œHowever, two main rules will help you avoid them: never pay to apply and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.â€
Photo Credit: (c) Burst