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How to avoid college application scams

If you’re the parent of a college-bound student, you know all too well how busy this season can be. If you’re not visiting a college campus, you’re working on your child’s financial aid application.

But as you wade through college and financial options with your child, it’s important to watch for college application scams that target the college-bound.

“Unfortunately, there are quite a few college application scams out there,” said Denise Burmeister, director of strategic partnerships at Student Choice.

Use this guide to know which scams to avoid during your college search and application process:

How to avoid scams during your college search

College test prep material ‘offer’

Scammers might contact parents of students preparing for college, claiming to be from the College Board, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The College Board is responsible for the PSAT and SAT tests.

“They call or email you, asking for credit card numbers so they can send PSAT prep materials that the student has supposedly requested. Often the scammers have the student’s name, address and phone number—making them seem more believable,” the FTC warned.

The problem: Your student didn’t ask for materials, and it’s not the College Board on the other end of the phone or email.

The FTC and the College Board say you can avoid scams like this by following these steps:

  • Know that the College Board never asks you to give credit card, bank account or password information over the phone or via email.
  • Before you give up your money or personal information, research the company online. Search for its name plus the word “scam” or “complaint,” and read about others’ experiences. Also, talk to someone you trust, such as your child’s school counselor, before you pay.
  • Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in. So, if you find out you paid a scammer, you might be able to get your money back if you paid with a credit card and report it quickly. If anyone asks you to pay by wiring money or by using a reloadable card or gift card, it’s a scam.
  • Remember: If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Charge fee for FAFSA

Many websites are designed to look like the real FAFSA site, except the user is charged a fee to complete the application.

Never pay the fee.

“It was designed by the Department of Education to take 15 to 20 minutes. And it’s designed so any family is able to sit down with their tax information and complete it on their own,” Burmeister said. “Just remember it’s the free application. It should always be free.”

If you have questions about the online form, go directly to the FAFSA website or talk to the financial aid office of the college or university you’re considering.

5 things you should know before you submit your FAFSA >

Guaranteed scholarship or financial aid

Any claim of guaranteed scholarship money or financial aid also is a big red flag.

“Sometimes scammers will claim, ‘We’ll help you complete your FAFSA’ and also guarantee you financial aid,” Burmeister said.

Legitimate companies never guarantee scholarships or financial aid.

Charge a fee for scholarships

Avoid applying for any scholarship that charges an application fee or a redemption fee.

Other unscrupulous companies charge applicants a fee to send them a list of scholarships to apply for.

“The family pays, and the scammer goes to Google and finds 10 scholarships that may or may not be relevant and sends it to them in the mail,” Burmeister said. “That’s something the family could have done themselves.”

To find reputable scholarships—which cost nothing and don’t have to be repaid—use these legitimate scholarship search engines.

“Those links from the Dupaco website are the best ones out there,” Burmeister said.

Explore Dupaco’s scholarship opportunities >

Don’t forget …

When you apply for financial aid, you’re submitting confidential information.

Always make sure you’re on the official, secure website to safeguard your private information. And never give out personal information to someone who initiates contact with you.

“You should be initiating that call,” Burmeister said.

Also keep tabs on your credit to make sure nothing is amiss during and after the financial aid season. With Dupaco’s Bright Track credit score monitoring service, you have free access to both your credit report and credit score.

If you suspect you’ve responded to a scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Learn more about paying for college in this on-demand webinar >