CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey urges future and current college students, as well as their parents, to do research before applying for scholarships and other financial aid.
“February is a time when many students and their families fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and research scholarships, loans, and other forms of financing for the upcoming school year," Morrisey said in a press release. "We want to make sure everyone is armed with information to keep them safe and their identities protected."
More students than ever are reaching out for financial assistance to pay for higher education. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that the number of first-time, full-time students receiving financial aid for a four-year college or university grew from 75 percent in the 2006-07 academic year to 85 percent in 2011–12.
Scammers may use that increase in interest and need for financial aid as a prime opportunity to prey on students and families.
“We don’t want any students falling prey to scholarship or financial aid scams,” Morrisey said. “Students should be aware of the telltale warning signs for these types of scams, including a money-back guarantee to secure a scholarship or requiring the student to pay upfront or ongoing fees, even after the scholarship has been awarded.”
Other warning signs include:
- "Secret scholarships." If a company claims to have inside knowledge of scholarship money, they are most likely lying. Information on scholarships is available freely to the public. Ask your school counselor/advisor.
- Asking for a student's checking account to "confirm eligibility." If they want bank account information or your credit card number to confirm or reserve a scholarship, it's a scam.
- Unsolicited offers. Whether it's an e-mail, phone call, or it arrived in your mailbox, if you didn't request the information, ignore the offer.
- High pressure sales pitches. Avoid high-pressure tactics that require you to ‘buy now’ or risk losing out on the opportunity. Solid opportunities are not sold through nerve-racking tactics.
Morrisey urged parents and students to thoroughly research any organization offering a scholarship or financial aid and ask a lot of questions. Families should look at the organization’s website, consult with a guidance counselor, and find local families who have dealt with the organization in the recent past.
Morrisey said that many legitimate companies may charge a fee for helping students match their academic profile with a database of scholarship opportunities. The difference is that legitimate companies will never guarantee or promise a scholarship or grant in exchange for money.