How to Protect Yourself from College-Aid Scams

Part of the Free $ For College For Dummies Cheat Sheet

As you fill out applications looking for free money for college, you may encounter some people and organizations trying to take money away from you rather than help you pay for your education. Following are a few tips that can help you reduce your chances of getting scammed by a fake scholarship companies:

  • Never, ever give your personal information (such as date of birth, Social Security Number, address, credit-card info) until you have done extensive background checks on the company or organization. Just because an organization has a great looking Web site, for example, doesn’t mean that it isn’t operating out of a trailer somewhere.

  • Always check the background of the company or organization extensively. An extensive check includes checking with the Federal Trade Commission, local police, local chamber of commerce, the state consumer business office, and the Better Business Bureau.

  • Conduct a search for the organization on the Internet using a large search engine such as Google or AltaVista. If others have been scammed by a particular organization, they may set up a Web site informing others about their experiences.

  • Ask the organization how it found you. If the organization doesn’t have a reasonable answer, stop dealing with it. Even when the answer sounds reasonable, the organization may still be lying. Double-check with the original source: Did it forward your name to the scholarship organization in question? Why?

  • Never deal with an organization unless it has a physical location. Even online colleges have physical offices. The picture of that huge building you see on an organization’s Web site may well be someone else’s building.

  • Never send anyone money in any form, even as a guarantee to hold your place unless you’ve confirmed with the appropriate governing body that the organization in question is legitimate. Always ask yourself: If this organization claims it’ll give me money, then why does it need my money first?

  • Assume it’s a scam and walk away or hang up the phone whenever the situation feels wrong or you feel pushed in any way. No legitimate scholarship requires you to respond immediately or risk losing out.

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