How Can I Avoid Scams When Looking for Financial Aid for College?

As college tuition costs continue to steadily climb, it is more important than ever before for students to find new financial aid opportunities to support their education. However, college students and their parents are often the targets for scholarship scams by dishonest people who are looking to steal personal information. Unfortunately, the scammers often offer students tempting deals to help lessen the financial burden, such as grants and scholarships to replace loans. In order to protect yourself against the various misleading guarantees and empty promises, follow these tips for avoiding dangerous scholarship scams.

Become Aware of the Warning Signs

As a general rule of thumb, if the financial aid being offered sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. A common red flag is when a scholarship provider offers applicants free money for a college education without asking for anything in return. All legitimate sponsors will expect new scholarship candidates to fill out an application, as well as write a letter or essay. Never be tempted by the appeal of free money because there will always be a catch.

Another common sign that you are dealing with a scam is when a provider offers a scholarship and money-back guarantee. It is financially impossible for a real service to guarantee scholarships for all students who apply. Genuine scholarships will have parameters that must be exceeded to earn money, such as a cumulative grade point average, community service, or professional career interest. In addition, do not fall into the trap of scammers who approach you with unsolicited scholarship offers, time-sensitive scholarships, free seminars, or application fees upfront.

Investigate Companies and their Claims

Since scammers and thieves are constantly becoming sneakier, they may not exhibit warning signals about their deceit. Therefore, it is essential to conduct further investigation about an organization to determine whether they are legitimate. For information you can trust, the first research stop should be your college’s financial aid office. If necessary, set up an appointment to talk with a financial aid officer about your questions or concerns with a particular scholarship.

Students are also encouraged to use various consumer-protection or government organizations to find out whether the sponsor is reputable. The Better Business Bureau offers accurate information about all legitimate companies, as well as a ranking and all complaints that have been filed. You may also want to consider contacting the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-Help, your state attorney general’s office, or the National Consumer League’s Fraud Center.

Apply for Federal Student Aid

Applying for federal student aid is the best way to reduce your risk for falling into a scam. You can easily fill out the FAFSA application online to receive help paying for college. When completing the application, keep in mind the importance of exiting the website and closing the browser to protect your personal information. Also, never be drawn into any scams that require payment for filing the FAFSA, because the federal government always offers the application free of charge.

Although it is often difficult to recognize scholarship scams, there are a number of various resources that are in place for your protection to avoid serious financial risks. Whenever you are questioning the validity of a scholarship offer, use these steps to investigate further and save yourself from hassles later on.