Avoiding scams when searching for college scholarship money is essential. Unfortunately, there are scam artists out there who will offer you amazing opportunities for free money for college … but for a price. How do you avoid these scams while searching the web for either you or your child’s education?
Firstly, know where to look. Find credible sites, such as White Picket College, that offer college financial aid advice for free. When a site automatically asks for money, that’s a red flag. There are legitimate financial experts out there who sell ebooks or books as an extra part of their site or business, but they do not ask for money outright.
Secondly, it’s fine to explore advertisements, again as long as they don’t ask for money outright. Clicking on a legitimate advertisement you’d like to explore further is fine. Just make sure the source is credible.
Thirdly, if you choose to hire a financial aid consultant, do your homework thoroughly. Either ask friends or neighbors for recommendations in your area, or search the web intelligently. Warning signs include no biography, person’s name or credentials attached to the site, upfront payment to use the site and their services sound too good to be true. For instance, if a consultant offers you free seminars on where to find government student grants or offers to fill out the FAFSA on your behalf, these are two major warning signs.
Legitimate consultants wouldn’t offer their services for free. And if they did, usually the seminar would be hosted by a large sponsor such as The Princeton Review. Also, handing over all your financial information to a stranger to fill out the FAFSA is a scam artist’s dream come true. S/he can rob you and steal your identity in one foul swoop. Plus, having someone fill out the FAFSA on your behalf is technically committing fraud.
You should never hand over a financial portfolio or your social security number or credit card number. Do not give out personal information either. However, for credible sites, such as FastWeb, they may want you to register your state, zip code, education level, etc. This is for statistical purposes.
Use your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right or appear right, it probably isn’t. Use the Internet wisely and advise students who are searching as well on how to avoid scams.
Remember, students are potential targets for scam artists, especially nowadays with everyone scrambling to pay for college. Be smart and stick to the websites and people you know.