15 Common Financial Aid Scams to Watch Out For

College students comprise a rather vulnerable demographic. Paying for classes and extracurricular activities ranks as one of the greatest stresses they face, and that’s exactly what scammers prey upon. Disguising themselves as everything from legitimate websites to "Financial Aid experts," they take advantage of fiscal desperation and wreak havoc on student bank accounts. Fortunately, however, taking time to read about their sinister strategies will make applying for loans, grants and scholarships far more productive. Not any easier, unfortunately, but cascades of legitimate paperwork is certainly preferable to losing everything.

  1. Millions in aid money go unclaimed every year

    According to South Seattle Community College, this super common scam immediately starts off with some underhanded numbering. Millions of dollars go unclaimed every year but frequently have little to do with student financial aid! Instead, they actually refer to employee or member benefits, not money that could be legally snatched up by or distributed to college kids.

  2. Buy now! Don’t miss this opportunity

    Financial Aid isn’t an infomercial product. Although the system undeniably needs some streamlining, opportunities to claim the money aren’t a "once in a lifetime" deal. Nor should students PAY anything up front. As soon as rhetoric starts requiring financial compensation or treating grants, scholarships and loans like Time Life retrospectives, back away quickly and run from a nasty little scam.

  3. Application fees

    Legitimate Financial Aid venues do frequently ask for an application before dishing out the monies, but never require any sort of processing fee. Or any fee at all! Once again, any sort of payment up front — no matter what sort of excuse the company gives — pretty much denotes that something sinister is afoot.

  4. Attend this free seminar

    Very rarely will free seminars targeting Financial Aid-seeking college kids genuinely offer the tips necessary to navigate the frequently foreboding large body of water metaphors. Typically, any events touting their ability to increase one’s chances of receiving money mask something a wee bit more commercial. Basically, if it starts sounding like a high-pressure sales pitch, it probably IS a high-pressure sales pitch.

  5. Guaranteed

    As awesome as anxiety-free grants, loans and scholarships sound, they’re unfortunately not realistic. Plenty of worthy students fall through the cracks every semester because Financial Aid isn’t a perfect system enjoying unlimited resources. So anyone claiming that they can guarantee money obviously lies and doesn’t exactly deserve any further consideration.

  6. Phone calls announcing scholarship approval

    Gerri Willis at CNN notes that legitimate scholarships always send letters of acceptance or denial through snail mail. Beware of any who prefer using the phone — and, by extension, those failing to provide adequate contact information. It’s a subtle sign that’s unfortunately easily ignored.

  7. Approval for scholarships and loans never considered

    If a student never applies for a scholarship, grant or loan, but still manages to receive an approval (or pre-approval) notice, he and/or she should trash it. Such scams are pretty much the college equivalent of those "You may have already won $1 million!!" They’re about as obvious as a clown on fire, and yet people still fall for them yearly.

  8. We just need your credit card and/or bank account number…

    Rather than asking for money up front, some of the more flagrant scammers out there prefer bank account numbers and credit card information. Help themselves to a bit more than just "processing fees." Suffice to say, this isn’t exactly a Financial Aid "opportunity" worth pursuing, especially since it means a far more precarious fiscal situation than before.

  9. Financial Aid consultants or coaches

    When looking for Financial Aid advice — and even the most bureaucratic-minded kids and parents will need it at some point — there’s only two places to turn. Either the college or university in question or high school counselors’ offices, neither of which charge for their services. Anyone advertising their services as counselors or coaches helping students snag more money (for a fee, of course!) probably harbors not-so-honest intentions.

  10. Inside information

    Along similar lines as "Financial Aid coaches" lurk organizations and individuals claiming to know top secret FAFSA information. Sure it’s a government bureau, but nothing that goes on there is necessarily clandestine or possesses some magical password for fiscal goodness. Once again, parents and students should consult with counselors at the high school or college level for free, updated guidance.

  11. Wanting cash only at any point

    It’s already been established that anyone requesting money for Financial Aid or advice on how to land it have safely earned the "scam artist" label. Asking for cash rather than check, credit cards or any other method involving a paper trail is a sure sign that something’s completely amiss. Not that anyone but the student should get any money in the first place…

  12. Fake websites

    Once Financial Aid applications have been properly filled out, make sure to file them at the official FAFSA website. Plenty of fake pages exist simply to steal "application fees," personal information or both. No matter how professional they appear, there’s no reason to submit forms anywhere but at the government’s page.

  13. Purchase necessary

    Rather than charging fees, some scammers prefer packaging their alleged services along with something else. Useless counseling or seminars, usually, but they could just as easily charge for books. The details don’t matter, though — any organization or individual "offering" Financial Aid (or assistance getting it) and requiring students to buy isn’t worth anyone’s time or energy.

  14. We’ll do all the work

    Endless Financial Aid forms and the accompanying migraine provide the dishonest with a perfect opportunity to prey on stressed-out students. Unfortunately, all perfectly legal, ethical grants, loans and scholarships require a right fair amount of work. Anyone purporting otherwise is probably…well…just read the article and figure it out.

  15. But we need an investment first

    Same tune as the "application fees" and required purchases, really, just from a different songbook. Any money up front, whether it be a direct payment or an "investment" should clue savvy students and parents in on what kind of nastiness is going down.

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