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Tips to Avoid Financial Aid and Scholarship Scams

ScamsApplying for scholarships and grants can be a stressful time; you’ve got different forms to fill out, you’re worried about college, and, on top of it all, you’re dealing with the most stressful subject in the world: money. While scholarships and financial aid are two of the best ways to pay for school, prospective students should be wary of potential scholarship scams. According to Whitworth University, scholarship scams cost students and their families an estimated $100 million dollars every year. Here are five tips to help you avoid being scammed in your search for college aid:

Never Divulge Sensitive Information 

Lots of scams are based around securing your personal information. This occurs routinely with scams like identity theft, but can also happen in scholarship searches. While financial aid information such as your FAFSA pin number and social security number may be required for your FAFSA forms, it should never be required to apply for scholarships.

Never Pay for FAFSA 

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  If you’re confused, their customer service team is there to walk you through any and all questions you may have. Many groups and programs will offer to fill out your FAFSA for you for a fee. While there are some scholarship organizations that legitimately aim to help students get their FAFSA filled out or locate scholarships—and may charge some fees—they should have enough information available to help you make an informed decision (such as a physical address and other contact information, and ideally a proven track record or history with third-party reporting or review companies). Avoid working with a company or scholarship search organization when red flags, including sales pitches and pressure, are present.

The New York Times also cautions students and parents to make sure they are on the right website when filling out the FAFSA. Parents and students should fill out their FAFSA on FAFSA.ed.gov.

Unsolicited Information 

According to CollegeBoard.org, you may be encountering a scholarship scam if the organization promises or guarantees you a scholarship, or if you receive unsolicited emails informing you that you’ve been selected to receive a scholarship. Scholarships are great ways for students to get “free” money for school, but they must be earned through applications and, often, essays and other projects. Be wary of spam emails telling you that you’ve won money for school or guaranteeing you a scholarship.

Do Your Research 

There are a limited number of people, organizations, and websites that you should trust when you are going through this process.  The Federal Student Aid Office of the United States Department of Justice has plenty of information on reputable organizations.

You can also do a bit of background research on your own. According to US News and World Report, you should never trust a scholarship offer if there is no clear history of past winners, no phone number, or if the scholarship organization claims to “do all the work for you.” Legitimate scholarship organizations or search services will present a student with a number of scholarships that the student is eligible for (sometimes even for a small fee), but will not do the work for the student.

Work with the Officials

Scott Weingold, in his report with The Huffington Post, warns students to try to reach out to officials whenever possible. Weingold offers an example of spam emails telling students there was an issue with their FAFSA. If you receive an email like this, do not respond to the email—instead, revisit your FAFSA or contact someone from the Department of Education. Likewise, any issues with your scholarship information should be handled with the organization itself, not a third-party.

Applying for financial aid and scholarships doesn’t need to be an overly stressful time. It should be exciting; after all, it’s the start of the next big journey in your life. However, to avoid falling for a scholarship scam, make sure that you are level-headed, informed, and never give out personal information to those who don’t need it.

This article was contributed with inputs from Jodelyn Guerrero, a career expert who hopes to help you get started with the first steps to start your career. She recommends taking a look at the finance jobs with moneyjobs.com if you’re interested in a finance position after graduating.

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