The modern world places a lot of importance on the concept of higher education. And while a push has been made lately to direct more people toward alternative options like a trade school, many career paths still require at least a college degree to get started.
Unfortunately, when something becomes a necessity, it also typically becomes a target for scammers and all manner of college scams have been on the rise in the last few years.
Education scams can come in many forms, ranging from college scams to student loan scams.
In fact, some people argue that the entire concept of higher education is a scam, saying that the crushing debt incurred from earning a degree isn’t worth the starter-salary positions it often leads to. On the other side of the debate, some point to a recent set of statistics1 showing that college graduates earn, on average, $30,000 more annually than workers with high school diplomas only.
Regardless, there are several compelling issues around access to higher education in America. In response, an entire world of scholarship opportunities, grants, loans, and placement programs have blossomed.
And while the best of these programs have noble intentions at heart, the industry at large is ad hoc and unregulated, leaving plenty of room for enterprising scammers to take advantage of the complicated and interlocking problems at play.
Unfortunately, nearly every aspect of higher education has been targeted by scammers, from the college prep process to the application for grants and student loans, to the schools and diplomas themselves.
And while there are no statistics specifically tallying the types of college scams on the rise, a mountain of anecdotal evidence points to a few key parts of the process being targeted.
Most people need student loans to afford college. As such, student loan scams have become one of the most widespread types of college scams.
The deceptions are especially insidious since student loans are at once so helpful for so many people and involve such personal details—the exact type of sensitive information scammers love to get their hands on. In fact, most student loan scams are after just that: Bank account and financial information as well as a number of personal details that can help a scammer pull off identity theft.
Student loan scams can happen before or after you sign up for these payment plans. They can look like a company offering to help secure you a student loan, or a financial intuition offering to help consolidate your student loan debt. These scams usually come from an organization that may otherwise seem legitimate, or from a cold call or unsolicited message offering financial aid.
Similar to the student loan scam is the scholarship scam. Once again, these deceptions play off the fact that many people need and seek out help paying for school.
Scholarship scams primarily come in two forms. In one, like with student loan scams, the organization will ask for a ream of personal information, supposedly as part of the scholarship application process but in reality, used to steal your identity.
The other popular type of scholarship program scam involves an organization that says it will help you find scholarships. Along with potentially asking for sensitive financial information in order to "set up your account" or offering to fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application—which is not only a scam but could get you in legal trouble—these programs may also charge fees for their "services."
These types of scams come from organizations posing as anything from an online college or university to a technical school to a high school diploma program.
What they all have in common is that none of these ventures are real. None of these “schools” are credentialed, and while you may end up with a “diploma,” it will be essentially worthless. But you’ll still have to pay for it—both through money that will go straight to scammers and a wealth of personal information they can use for other deceptions.
A basic hit-and-run scam with an educational twist, college test prep scams happen when a "company" calls or sends you a message offering help studying for the PSATs, SATs, or other college entrance exams.
They may ask for personal information and ask you to pay upfront. Then, instead of providing the help they promised, they’ll take your money and vanish.
The role of higher education may be up for debate in society, but there’s no doubt that further knowledge will help you avoid education scams.
While scammers are always adapting their schemes in order to attract new victims, there are still some red flags you can look out for when it comes to college scams.
When it comes to beating college scams, once again, a little bit of education can go a long way.
These scams are often tricky to parcel out, as there is any number of legitimate companies and scholarships out there offering similar services. Your best bet in these cases is to arm yourself with a little research, including:
To avoid college scams, NEVER:
If you think you’re the victim of an education scam, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself.
First, you can—and should—report the scam to:
If you gave away sensitive personal information, you should also:
If you paid a fraudulent company, you should contact your bank as quickly as possible to explain the situation and see if there’s any way to cancel the payment.
You may think you're being invited to an honor society, but you could be the target of a nationwide scam aimed at students.
If you receive a text message from your cell phone provider containing a link to a "little gift," don't click on it—it's a scam!
Venmo users are noticing suspicious emails hitting their inboxes with claims of a large sum of money waiting to be transferred by a PayPal user.
The Tinder safe dating scam tricks users into giving up their credit card info to verify their profiles and leads to auto-enrollment in monthly subscription-based porn sites.
A call from your bank isn't always legitimate—imposters pretend to represent your bank to steal your information and money.
In 2020, almost $20 billion was lost to phone scammers in the U.S. alone. With 165 million robocalls being made every day, it's hard not to be targeted.
A promise of a large sum of money in return for a fee should raise some red flags—more often than not, it's a scam.
Arm yourself with information on how this scam works and the red flags to watch out for to protect your bank account from these thieves.
Read how an actual sweepstakes scheme unfolded and scammed an elderly couple out of $800,000, as told by investigative consultant and ex-DEA Special Agent, Jason James.
Buying a used car from a private seller can save you money, but it can also make you vulnerable to various scams. Protect yourself and your money from used car scams.
With so many honor societies across the country, it can be difficult to decide which one to join. Here's why you should join a local chapter.
An important step in keeping your kids safe online is to keep everyone, including yourself, educated. MASK is an organization that can help.
With more than 2 million fake websites online, it's important to report any you come across to help the authorities shut them down and protect others from falling for scams.
The U.S. saw a massive 45% increase from 2019 to 2020 in reports of fraud, scams, and identity theft and a 1,400% increase in 20 years from 2001.
When looking for the best car insurance rates, be sure to take advantage of these 14 discounts that can save you hundreds of dollars on your premium.
After a 3-year long scam, Angela Mirabella and six others have been indicted on several charges, including grand theft.
After enrolling in a fake university set up by ICE, students who lost millions of dollars are to be disappointed by the U.S. government yet again.
Louri Loughlin and her husband were both convicted in the College Admissions scam. They participated in a fraud to get their daughters into college. Loughlin is 'owning it'.
This case shows just why you need to be aware of SIM swapping and how to protect your cell phone number from criminals like this.
Taking a chance on a fake COVID-19 vaccination card seems like an easy way to get around requirements, but think again before you land yourself in prison.