FBI Portland
Beth Anne Steele
(503) 460-8099
September 10, 2018

Oregon FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Scholarship Fraud

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against scholarship and financial aid scams.

The start of the school year can be both highly anticipated and cause high anxiety. No matter how you look at it, college is expensive. Between tuition, room and board, and the price of books, students can face overwhelming costs. For this reason, many people begin to search for scholarships and grants as a way to ease the financial burden. Unfortunately, many con artists have taken advantage of this fact and are luring people into scholarship and financial aid scams.

Today we will share some information with you that comes from our partners at the Federal Trade Commission about how you can avoid getting scammed on your way to college.

There are many companies that charge more than $1,000 for assistance in finding financial aid opportunities and scholarships. Much of the information that they provide is available elsewhere for free.

Many fraudulent businesses will also guarantee that you will receive a scholarship or grant—if you pay upfront for their services. Some will use high-pressure tactics, such as “buy now or forever miss this opportunity,” to coerce people into paying right away. Another common tactic is to tell you that you have been selected as a “finalist” for a scholarship that requires a bank account number to confirm the identity of the student. Many of these deceitful companies will even offer a “customer satisfaction or money back” guarantee. However, if you look closely at the conditions, you will see that it is virtually impossible to get the refund.

So before you pay for help to find scholarships and grants, keep the following things in mind:

  • Take your time to decide if you want to use a company that requires a fee. Do not let anyone rush or pressure you into a quick buy. Do research on the company and talk to a financial aid advisor before spending money. If it is a valid company, the offer will still be available in a couple of days.
  • Remember that the government never requires you to pay a fee to receive a “free” government grant. If the grant has been awarded to you, there will be no “processing fee.”
  • Take the success stories shared at seminars with a grain of salt. The company might have paid someone to share a glowing story. Try to find reviews from an outside source to confirm the validity of the company.
  • Ask lots of questions. Figure out exactly how much money you are going to be charged, the services that they are promising to provide, and learn about their refund policy. Get this information in writing.

Some companies that offer to help you are legitimate and do provide services, but you should definitely do your homework and read all of the fine print ahead of time. And, again, be wary of paying for services that you can get for free elsewhere.

As always, if you have been victimized by a scholarship or grant scam or any other cyber fraud, be sure to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.