Fraudulent scholarship opportunities threaten college applicants
Recently at DP, several students lost nearly $2,000 each to fraudulent scholarship aid companies
By Michael Aling | Staff Writer
November 5, 2012
As college-related activities begin to pick up again at the high schools, it’s important to bear in mind that not everything is as it seems.
Applicants, beware: there are people out there who want your money, and aren’t afraid to pull the wool over your eyes to get it. As Robert Southley said, “All deception is…a lie reduced to practice.”
It’s easy to understand how these companies make a buck.
A student, overwhelmed with schoolwork and in need of scholarships, sees an offer from someone who says they’re willing to do all the work for him/her. Or, perhaps misguided parents believe they’ve found an easy way to get their kids into the college of their dreams.
Unfortunately, there are very few companies out there who offer help with good intentions.
And some such lies can put you out of money. Sometimes, a whole lot of money.
Recently at DP, several students lost nearly $2,000 each to fraudulent scholarship aid companies.
It’s unknown how the DP students’ information, such as name, address, and age, was distributed, but it was most likely from personal activities on the internet. The school does not release this information.
Those companies provide very little substance, such as information freely available on the Internet, for that high fee.
One company that DP students have fallen prey to mails out invitations to students, inviting them to a free seminar where they will be offered those small benefits.
Once inside that room, many of the attendees are convinced that the company does in fact offer something unique and helpful, and sign up for its costly service under the threat of a drastic price increase.
The aforementioned $2,000 price tag is after a “discount” for “participating in the seminar” and the company wants your money while you’re still in the room, so you can’t go back home, think about it, do some research, and discover that you’ve almost been caught in a scam.
Similar scholarship fraud is surprisingly common. It’s been estimated that students are scammed out of as much as $100 million annually by similar ploys.
These fraudulent companies commonly use words like “National,” “Federal,” and “Foundation” in their names to sound more official.
“Guarantees” are also common, especially guarantees that you’ll get back all the money that you spend. Most of these guarantees are so riddled with fine print that, when carefully examined, become meaningless.
Often companies say that you have been “selected” as being qualified for a special service, or as a finalist for a competition that you didn’t enter.
There are always ensnaring nets of impeccable, binding legal agreements to ensure that victims can’t escape once they realize the true nature of the company.
The bottom line: as DP counselor Ms. Pereira said, “You must apply for scholarships or grants yourself. You must spend the time.” Nobody will do the hard work for you. It just isn’t profitable.
The single best tool in protecting oneself from fraud remains a quick Google search.
By scanning the results pages for any mention of a scam, a bad deal, or any other form of trickery, you’ll be able to fairly quickly and with a high degree of certainty determine whether or not a scholarship offer or financial aid company is legitimate.
Through your searches, you may quickly find websites that have stores of information on fraud of this breed. If they helped you unearth one falsehood, use them to help you unearth another.
Beyond that, if you’re still unsure, there are other reliable resources available. The Federal Trade Commission (some specifics) and Better Business Bureau keep tabs on this issue. If you’re suspicious of an offer, then there’s probably a good reason.
In general, don’t respond to unsolicited offers.
If you get an email about a contest you never entered, or an offer that you didn’t apply for that isn’t connected with one of the scholarship-finding services you already use, do not reply. Better yet, send it straight to your spam folder.
Do not pay money to receive or apply for a scholarship, beyond a few dollars’ worth.
Although it might not cost you much, companies can make a profit off of these entry fees in addition to the scholarship prizes that might not even be awarded at all.
You don’t need to give out your bank account or credit card number to receive a scholarship. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to steal your identity.
Guard your personal information carefully.
Your luck will be far better with your high school counselor and resources like Naviance, which includes a scholarship list and a “search” feature. These are always available to you and are there to help you.
For more detailed information about typical scam tactics, visit collegescholarships.org’s scam information page.
If you believe that you’ve been on the receiving end of a scam, be sure to report it to officials.