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 to student loan scams.
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 statistics 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.
Many people think various honor societies, such as the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), are scams that don't benefit their members in the slightest. However, these organizations are technically not scams as they offer scholarships and other opportunities to members.
Good rules of thumb to follow are only to join a society associated with your chosen college and be wary of those that charge membership fees.
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.
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 several personal details that can help a scammer pull off identity theft.
Student loan scams can happen before or after signing up for these payment plans. They can look like a company offering to help you secure 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 scholarship program scam involves an organization that says it will help you find scholarships. Along with potentially asking for sensitive financial information 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."
Genuine scholarship offers won't require you to pay any type of fee. If someone promises you a scholarship with upfront fees, it's a scam.
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 promised, the scammers 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 constantly adapting their schemes 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 are many legitimate companies and scholarships out there offering similar services. Your best bet in these cases is to arm yourself with a bit of 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.
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