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Don’t waste money looking for scholarship money

Many high school seniors have a lot to celebrate this spring: graduating high school, being accepted into college and forming a plan for the next year. It’s all very exciting. And if higher education is on your or your child’s radar for next year, the thought of paying tuition can be overwhelming.

Many incoming and returning students turn to grants and scholarships to help fund higher education. Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest warns students and parents to beware of scams when looking for financial help paying for school. Some funding offers may be more of a burden than a benefit. In the past year, consumers have reported more than 20 scams to the BBB Scam Tracker with about $3,500 lost and over $150,000 attempted.

Scammers typically claim to represent the government, a university, or a nonprofit organization. The details vary, but the con is the same. Using words like “National” and “Federal” to sound more official, scammers pose as a financial aid representative. They claim you have won a scholarship or a grant (without ever applying) and ask for payment of a one-time “processing fee.”

In another version, the scammer pressures you into applying for a “guaranteed” scholarship or grant. However, there is a fee to apply. You pay up, but never receive the promised money. In yet another variation, you receive a check for the scholarship but are instructed to send back payment for the taxes or fees. The check turns out to be a fake, and you’re out the money.

Look out for these red flags when applying:

▪  Application fees and guarantees. Legitimate scholarship programs do not require a fee to apply, even for processing. If a program offers to refund your application fee if you are not a recipient or guarantees you will win the scholarship, there is a good chance you will never receive your money back.

▪  No work required. Fraudsters will often claim to be able to complete application forms on behalf of the student. Keep in mind, legitimate programs require personal details and submissions like essays. This is information only an applicant can provide themselves.

▪  You’ve been selected for a scholarship you didn’t apply for. These scams often phish for personal information such as date of birth, Social Security numbers or fees in order to receive funds, which, of course, never materialize.

▪  Everyone is eligible. Most legitimate scholarships reward students for specific criteria like academic achievement, athletics, volunteer work, career interests or other areas.

To protect yourself, verify the organization before providing any information, especially financial or personal information. Beware scammers who use names that are similar, but slightly off, of well-known organizations. Verify an organization is legitimate by checking with a reliable third party, like BBB.

Families should also research and understand the difference between scholarships, grants, federal loans and work study. The FTC recommends visiting StudentAid.gov, the U.S. Department of Education’s site for free information on preparing for and funding education beyond high school.

Emily Valla, emily.valla@thebbb.org, is the Idaho marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest. To check a business or report a scam, go to www.bbb.org or call (208) 342-4649.

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