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Beware of Scammers Who Prey on High School & College Students

Looking for money for college? It’s out there — but unfortunately, so are scholarship scams that are looking to cash in. Here’s how to avoid these ripoffs.

Financial aid forms are very confusing, and finding money to pay for college is stressful and overwhelming. Unfortunately, whenever you have people who need money and have to fill out lots of forms, scammers will inevitably appear to take advantage of this situation.

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Being a part of the team of experts resume that financial aid and scholarship scammers are looking for ill-informed students and parents who need money to pay for the ever-increasing costs of education — and they make plenty of money because people fall for their scams.

Don’t be the victim of a financial aid or scholarship scam. Here are some common scams, and what to look for to make sure someone isn’t trying to rip you off.

Grant and Scholarship Databases — For a Price

The Internet is overloaded with people who want to sell you information about college scholarships and grants (and other kinds of government grants as well). They want to sell you access to databases that will help you locate “free” money (which you pay them for).

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Sometimes these things are known as “scholarship matching services.” They also want to sell you ebooks that give you all the secrets to finding grants and scholarships.

Never pay anyone for this kind of information! Grant and scholarship information is readily available for free, and all you have to do is look. Here are some free places to find info about scholarships and grants:

  • Free databases on the Internet
  • Books that list scholarships, available at the library
  • Your high school guidance counselor or college advisor
  • Your college financial aid office

Ignore claims made by these companies that “billions of dollars in scholarship money go unclaimed every year!” While it’s true that some scholarships may go unclaimed, most are extremely competitive.

Shady Financial Aid Consultants

Another scam to watch out for is the “financial aid consultant” who wants you to pay a hefty price for services that you can get for free. Now, not all financial aid consultants are scammers.

You can hire educational consultants to help you fill out forms and navigate the college application process– and part of what these consultants help with is financial aid.

These consultants can be expensive, but they’re not scammers. They essentially do what a good guidance counselor does, only they give you more personal attention, time, and advice.

However, the thing to look out for are companies that want you to pay for services that can easily be done yourself — like filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Form (FAFSA).

People pay companies to do their FAFSA because it’s complicated. But many guidance counselors will help you with the FAFSA for free, and if they won’t, you can often find free or low-cost seminars to help you with the FAFSA at the local library or community center.

Moreover, some of these FAFSA companies advertise that they’re able to fill out your form in a way that maximizes your financial aid eligibility. There’s a very thin line here between divulging information carefully and fraud, and you don’t want to commit fraud on a FAFSA because it’s easy to spot and you can lose your financial aid eligibility.

Some shady financial aid consultants try to get business by advertising “free financial aid seminars.” These are high-pressure sales pitches to get you to buy their services.

So suggests avoiding these, and if you find yourself at one of them, say no. For real financial aid advice that’s free, talk to a high school guidance counselor or college financial aid office. They can direct you to web and print resources that are on the level, and answer many of your questions themselves.

Paying for Scholarships

Scholarship scams are easy to spot. They ask you to pay money for the opportunity to apply for a scholarship. Sometimes the fee is low enough to seem reasonable, like $5. But here’s the thing: you should never pay money for the opportunity to apply for a scholarship. Some scammers also charge money to get information about scholarships.

Student Loan Scams

Student loan scams are similar to scholarship scams, and they’re easy to spot. If a company asks ever asks you for an origination fee or other fee to start a student loan — or to consolidate your student loans — it’s a scam.

Reputable financial institutions deduct fees from the loans themselves, and there’s never an advance fee. When obtaining a loan, be sure to do business with a reputable institution, as there are plenty of shady ones out there.

Buyer Beware

In the eyes of people looking to make a quick buck, students can be easy targets. Many need money badly for college and don’t necessarily know how the system works.

You can avoid being a target by being on the lookout for scams. And if you’re ever unsure about the legitimacy of financial aid, talk to your guidance counselor or college financial aid office before you commit to something that might be a ripoff.

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