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Choose scholarships wisely, don’t fall for scams

Have you received notification you’ve won a scholarship? You typically can’t win a scholarship or grant that you never applied for.
Have you received notification you’ve won a scholarship? You typically can’t win a scholarship or grant that you never applied for.

Many high school juniors and seniors across the country are busy applying for both college and the scholarships to help them cover costs. For students struggling to pay tuition, a sudden offer of a grant or scholarship can feel like a dream come true. Unfortunately, Better Business Bureau Northwest & Pacific has heard of scammers creating fake scholarships in hopes of cashing in on a student’s misfortune. This scheme hooks victims in with the promise of money, but upfront “fees” never actually materialize into those much-needed funds.

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 financial aid representatives. They claim a student has won a scholarship or grant and asks 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 another scenario 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.

To avoid being a victim to scholarship scams, remember the following tips:

It is generally free to apply for scholarships. In the U.S., the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the only application that determines eligibility for all federal programs and you can complete and submit it for free.

Beware of unsolicited offers. You typically can’t win a scholarship or grant that you never applied for. Ask how the organization got your name and then verify it with the source.

Beware of overpayment. Remember, a check can bounce even after your bank allows you to withdraw cash from the deposit. Check processing is a confusing business, as is the terminology. Even if a bank representative tells you that a check has “cleared” you can’t be sure it won’t be detected as a fake weeks later. One thing you can be sure of is that you will be on the hook for any funds drawn against the amount.

Looking to apply for a legitimate scholarship? Check with your school counselor and remember these tips! Recently the BBB Foundation announced the 29 finalists for its Students of Integrity Scholarship. The scholarship program recognizes high school juniors and seniors who personify and communicate ethics in the real world. A scholarship of $10,000 will be awarded to the winning application submitted by students residing in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Hawaii or Western Wyoming. Renaissance High School student Rachel Hull and Jerome High School student Hope Fitzgerald are the finalists representing Idaho. To help them get closer to their goal of winning the $10,000 scholarship, view their video submissions at bit.ly/2018-BBB10K. The winner will be announced next month.

Veronica Craker, veronica.craker@thebbb.org, is the content and communications director for Better Business Bureau Northwest +Pacific. To check a business or report a scam, go to bbb.org or call 208-342-4649.

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