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This week's question from Samantha Davis, Queens, NY asks:

What are the most common scholarship scams? How do I avoid them?

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Steve Loflin | Founder & CEO
The quest for scholarships is greater than ever and students are becoming very efficient at patching together a variety of them to make the numbers work for college. There are a number of scholarship scams that students should be aware of. Students should never have to pay for a scholarship or pay to apply for a scholarship. Secondly, you should also be suspicious if you are required to give a tremendous amount of information about yourself in the registration/application process. Name, address, email and essays are pretty typical...more information than that may mean they are gathering information for marketing purposes. Always read the fine print to make sure the company is not selling your information to marketing companies. Thankfully, there are a ton of organizations out there helping to lighten the financial burden of attending college for many students. Be smart and creative when applying, take every application seriously and you'll improve your chance of scholarship dollars coming your way!

Be wary of scholarships that over-promise and cannot be verified

Ralph Becker | Owner & Director
When applying for scholarships, be wary of any scholarship offers with: no phone numbers, no past winners, application fees, dubious endorsements, guarantees of success, extra fees (e,g, handling), claims of millions in scholarships unclaimed last year, statements such as “everyone is eligible,” or requests for your financial information such as a social security or credit card number. Only use reliable sources such as FastWeb, or your career and counseling center to research scholarships. Over 300,000 students lost $5 million in scholarship fraud last year. If it seems too good, or seems weird, report it to the FTC (https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/FTC_Wizard.aspx?Lang=en) and flee.

Beware of "pay to play!"

Chris Hooker Haring | Dean of Admission & Financial Aid
The most common scholarship scam is one where the "expert" says pay me now and I guarantee you will receive financial aid. Most often all they can guarantee are the federal loans that any student who fills out a FAFSA is eligible for. So you are paying for something that is available for free. My advice, ask for references from any financial consultant and call the references. Also check them out on the web--Google them and see if online reviews come up.

Beware of Scholarship Scams

Marilyn Emerson | Founder
No one can guarantee you a scholarship. If they say they can, they’re scamming you. Be wary of people who promise to give you inside information for a fee, charge a FAFSA application fee, offer financial aid workshops and then try to sell you something, request an advance fee for a low interest loan, and people who request your credit card information. www.fastweb.com/ is one of several good free scholarship databases. You can find great information about scholarships at www.finaid.org/scholarships/ Remember: anything that sounds too good to be true usually is.

Do Not Pay to Play!

Scott Hamilton | Founder
The easiest way to spot a scam is if payment is required to either receive a list of scholarships or to apply for a specific scholarship. It can be beneficial to work with an experienced professional who assists students with understanding how to finance a college education, including accessing need based and merit aid, while identifying the best match college. But never pay someone to simply generate a list of scholarships. There are several reputable scholarship search engines on the internet that provide the same information for free with just a few key strokes.

Do your own scholarship search

Nola Lynch | Owner
Welcome to the real world! Scholarship scams are like most others, taking advantage of people’s need for help. You can avoid them, however, by staying alert and remembering a few key points. First, you’re not going to “win” money you didn’t apply for. Second, you should not be asked to provide credit card information in order to be considered for scholarships. Third, there aren’t “millions of dollars” in unclaimed scholarship funds that you will have access to. To be safe, do your own search on the standard sites, within your state and local clearinghouses, and at your own school.

Don't pay for any scholarship search service

Ken Huus | Dean of Admissions
The most common scam is a service (online or in person) that offers to conduct a scholarship search for a fee. There are plenty of places that offer free scholarship searches (collegenet.com, your local high school guidance office, meritaid.com, etc.) that contain a complete inventory of posted scholarships. Lots of students don't take the time to do a scholarship search or apply for small scholarships - take the time to apply for appropriate scholarships (ones for which you're qualified based on your interests or background), and you will likely be awarded.

Don't pay to play: Tips to avoid scholarship scam

Rebecca Joseph | Executive Director & Founder
Never ever pay to apply for a scholarship! Each scholarship application should be free. You may need to send official test scores and transcripts-that is okay. The number one scam is FAFSA.com. It plays on the official name of federal financial aid, but it asks you to pay at the end. Only use http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ for financial aid. Avoid any site that asks for a payment.

Free Money Shouldn't Cost You Money!

Estelle Meskin | Certified Educational Planner
An internet site caught my attention recently stating that for just $99 I would be eligible to receive access to many prestigious scholarships. Is this worthwhile pursuing? Scholarship scams are around all the time. Several factors may be responsible: 1)The very high cost of a college education; 2)Increased numbers of students going to college with many headed for expensive schools; and 3)Increased use of the internet which has allowed for more fraud to occur. The FTC publishes a pamphlet that alerts consumers to “Six Signs of Possible Fraud.” If you recognize any of the situations outlined in the brochure, you could be the next victim of a scam. Free money shouldn't cost you money!

If It Asks for $$$, It's Probably a Scam

Anne Richardson | Director of College Counseling, International & ESL Programs
The most common scholarship/financial aid scams are those that ask you to pay for a search or services. You should never have to pay for a scholarship application or search, or for financial aid help. You can search for scholarships online and through your guidance/college counseling office. The office is a great resource, and counselors often know about local or school-specific scholarships that you might be eligible for that won't appear online. The bottom line? If it asks for $$, it's probably a scam...

If it feels dishonest, it probably is

John Carpenter | Founder
I actually hate this question because I want to believe that good people are doing good work, trying to help kids make college affordable. HOWEVER, there are people out there who will abuse your desire to win a scholarship, so beware. Of course, everyone will tell you never to pay anyone a fee for a scholarship search, and that's good advice. A different kind of dishonesty though occurs when you win scholarships and then don't include them in your financial statement to the colleges. In a way, that's also scamming. Some schools will discount outside scholarships and some won't, but the right thing to do is to disclose to the college or university what you and your parents can contribute and then trust that the school will figure out the rest for you. Maybe I'm old-fashioned or naive or just a bad businessman, but I think honesty all around is the best policy. If you feel that someone is not being honest with you, then you're probably right and you should look for a different source for funding.

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Usually Is

Janet Rosier | Independent College Admissions Consultant
There are a lot of “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to searching for scholarships. Don’t fall for lines such as “thousands of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed”. Don’t pay anyone to find scholarships for you or pay someone who promises to find you financial aid you couldn’t get on your own. Don’t apply for any scholarship that requires you to pay a fee--even if it is just a few dollars. Do check legitimate sources--the best place to start is your own high school’s guidance department. Do check local civic groups. Do check reputable websites. And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

Look Before You Leap at Scholarships!

Jeannie Borin | Founder & President
Know that the best scholarship leads come from guidance counselors and qualified educational consultants. Generally any company claiming scholarship information asking for money should not be trusted. Legitimate scholarships can be found through private corporations, community organizations, non-profits and the colleges. There are excellent free scholarship databases available on the web. Call the source before you apply to check on credentials. Good Luck!

Research funds thoroughly before sending any money or personal information

Katherine Cohen | Founder & CEO
There are many scholarship scams out there, so beware! “Scholarship” funds that request an application fee, operate out of a residence, guarantee a return, or have a name suspiciously close to an organization you know to be legitimate, are probably scams. Most legitimate scholarship organizations will not solicit students and only contact students in response to a student inquiry. Beware of any fund that promises you an award. Major nonprofit corporations do not operate out of residences, so check out the address. If it is legitimate, the scholarship program will almost always include a street address and telephone number on its stationery. Finally, scholarship scams are often based on imitations of legitimate foundations, and many have official sounding names. Again, research thoroughly before applying.

Scholarship Offers Shouldn't Have Fee Strings Attached

Yolanda Watson Spiva | Executive Director
Scholarships are a source of free money to reward students who meet specific academic qualifications, are affiliated with certain religious, athletic, or cultural groups, or who currently engage in or plan to pursue certain academic subjects or social activities. Individuals and organizations that provide scholarships to students, understand that students need money and as such, they are not going to request that you provide unnecessary financial documentation like a credit card number or checking account number. One major red flag that a scholarship offer is a scam is when the scholarship offer comes with payment or fee requirements, or requires that you send money in order to claim the scholarship. Further, scholarship applications typically don't require that you provide sensitive personal information such as your social security number, at least not at the initial application phase. As such, be aware of requests for too much personal information. Scholarships are a gift to students, and while you will have to work hard to earn and retain the free funds, don't sell yourself short or provide information that in the end, will make you the loser.

Scholarships Should Pay YOU!

Mary Beth Fry | Director of College Counseling
Scholarship scams abound. There's a company right now that--somehow--gets your family's name and address and tells you that you have an appointment for a free financial-aid/scholarship consulting appointment. When you arrive, you and your parent(s) are pressured into buying a high-priced service, one that may cost as much as $2,500.00 to help you find money that you could find for yourself for free. Don't fall for it! No scholarship worth any money at all should cost you a dime to obtain. Go to www.fastweb.com, www.scholarships.com, and www.finaid.org for legitimate information about scholarships and financial aid. Your guidance counselor will also have lots of information about community, religious, and civic scholarships for which you may be eligible, and the College Board publishes a great resource called The Scholarship Handbook, which can help you find obscure scholarships you may not find anywhere else. Looking into all of these resources--and following through with your applications--that's all you need to do. Period.

The "Free Seminar" Scholarship Scam

Jim Overton | Founder
Occasionally students and their parents will receive an attractive invitation to a free seminar (or interview) with a trained financial aid consultant who will promise show them the secrets of becoming eligible for financial aid. While there are many legitimate consultants who can show you how to increase your success in the scholarship search, there are many who only want to sell you other financial instruments that have little to do with financial aid. With the resources that you have in this workshop you can do your own research. Beware of big promises.

The Most Common Scholarship Scams - A List

Scott White | Director of Guidance
The scams: “Pay $x to get a list of scholarships.” “Come to a presentation.” "Give us personal information for a chance to apply for a scholarship." “You have been nominated” for an award and you have a chance to purchase a book with your name. “You are guaranteed to get a scholarship.” How to Avoid Them: *Never, Ever pay to apply for a scholarship. *Never attend a seminar that is for the purpose of receiving scholarships. *Do not apply for any scholarships that involve a purchase of any kind. *Google the name of the scholarship followed by the word “scam”. *Look up the scholarship on the Better Business Office web site, the Federal Trade Commission or consumer affairs office from the state of affiliation. *Be wary of awards where you are notified that you have been selected or nominated to participate. *Check with your counselor. *”If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” Use fastweb.com, collegeboard.com and scholarships.com before researching other sites.

The One thing never to do to acquire a College Scholarship

Ellen Fisher | Founder & Independent College Advisor
What is the one thing, to pay an organization to ‘be considered’ to win a college scholarship. Acquiring scholarship money takes time, not invested money. Thanks to two terrific web sites, FinAid – The Guide to Financial Aid and Fastweb - Largest Free scholarship search site every family has an easy place to go locate most (not all) available scholarship options. In addition, always compete the FAFSA application and if any of the colleges the student is applying to uses the CSS Form, then complete that as well.

You Should Never Have to Pay Money to Get Money!

Deborah Shames | Independent College Search Consultant & Transfer Admissions Advisor
Anything scholarship that promises that you are “eligible” to win by paying “X” fee should raise red flags. Just because you are “eligible” doesn’t mean you will actually win the scholarships. You should never have to pay money to get legitimate scholarships. The best thing to do is to check out free scholarship search engines (many counselors, including me, have links to them on their websites), check with your guidance office for local scholarships and how to apply, and take the time to see what’s out there. And here’s one more warning - if you might qualify for need-based aid at your colleges, winning outside scholarships may not be like winning anything at all; oftentimes the check will be written out directly to the college you will attend, and the college may very well choose to deduct that money from need-based grants they were going to give you. Ouch!! Good luck!

You should not pay to get scholarship information

Francine Block | President
All the information you will need about possible scholarships that you might qualify for is available free. A common scam is when you are notified that a company can guarantee you information about money you will qualify for and you must pay them for this information. The guaranteed money is usually the student and parent government loans that all students and families are entitled to receive. This information is available, free, in your guidance office and online at the government financial web websites. When a company says they will refund your fee if you do not get scholarships, you have to show them proof that you have applied to all, possibly hundreds, of scholarships they suggested you apply to, many which you do not qualify for, and then show them the rejections letters before they will refund you money.


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