How to Avoid School Scams

Whether directed at university, high school or grade school students, school scams can harm both students and parents alike. School scams can vary in terms of their effects on victims.

However, every scam creates unwanted problems for victims. Learning how to identify potential scams can help in preventing financial disasters or unnecessary stress. Since applying and preparing for a new school inevitably causes stress, avoiding additional stress should be a priority.

Various scams exist that may sound convincing as a legitimate back-to-school resource. Therefore, you should review the following types of school scams that you may encounter and discover ways to verify financial aid offers, educational or employment opportunities and shopping deals. Many school deals and opportunities are visible and prominent on social media and local advertisements, but the sections below can help you uncover which ones will deliver on their promises.

Financial Aid Scams

Almost everyone relies on financial aid when attending a university, which means countless students and parents are exposed to fake financial aid offers. Over 40 million undergraduates and post-graduates both have applied for subsidized and unsubsidized loans and grants, and most adults remain in debt for years after finishing their schooling. In fact, Forbes reported that the total student loan debt in the U.S. is currently at $1.52 trillion. While most students applying for financial aid receive genuine loans and grants from the federal government or another trusted entity, not all students are as lucky. Additionally, some students may accidentally repay student loans or provide personal information to fraudulent companies or online sites.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, you should remember this advice when searching for and applying to loans or other applications for financial aid:

  • Be careful of commercial financial aid services and impersonators. These services may claim to help you find the best scholarships, loans or grants available, but they may not always be worth what they charge.
  • Consider using free sources of information accessible to you. For instance, your school’s financial aid office and local businesses, religious institutions and community organizations you trust are great ways to learn about the types of student aid options that may be right for you.
  • Contact your loan servicer before acting on questionable calls, emails or messages. School scams often try to worry borrowers on their current loan status or request changes in their existing loan repayment plans, but borrowers should always ensure their official servicers sent the messages.

Online Education Scams

Enrolling in school online is becoming more and more popular in the U.S.  as educational institutions are offering online courses to either supplement or replace certain courses. While online classes are great for many students, applicants must be aware of red flags that may indicate a program is a scam.

Related Article: Is online education for you?

If you are considering enrolling in an online program, do not let scammers stop you. Instead, consult the following list of warning signs that could mean a program is not the real deal:

  1. The program is not accredited.
  2. The degree or certification is easily obtainable.
  3. The name of the program includes the name of prestigious universities.
  4. The campus address is difficult to find.
  5. Recruiters for the program are aggressive.
  6. The program requires a large investment upfront.
  7. Online resources are scarce and/or filled with errors.

If you are skeptical of an online program for any reason, you should never provide any of your personal information. This includes your phone number, email and initials.

Internship and Job Scams

Students and recent graduates are often desperate for jobs or internships. However, accepting any position you find is not always advisable. Almost anyone can post a job or internship listing online, but some work opportunities may not deliver on payments or benefits. Others may fail to assign work tasks, outline employees’ responsibilities or communicate well with applicants.

Related Article: Internships

To avoid scams related to jobs or internships, you should carefully evaluate each work posting. Additionally, you should be cautious of offers sent to you via email or social media that you have not requested or that demand payment during the application process. Work-from-home positions are more likely to be fraudulent positions than those in traditional work environments, so you should research the companies to which you are applying and confirm their authenticity. Finding a list of past employees and reviews is a plus when determining if an internship or job offer is real.

Identity Theft

Unfortunately, identity theft is a common byproduct of the back-to-school season. Since students and parents are entering their financial information and personal details on college applications, financial aid and scholarship forms, they are at an increased risk of identity theft.

Criminals can access your name, social security number and bank information through some websites. Identity theft can also occur when you compete in shopping-spree contests or donate money to a fake school program. Although identity theft happens all the time, you should be especially aware of it during back-to-school seasons.

The U.S. Department of Education reminds students and families to apply for federal student aid using the FAFSA form to reduce the possibility of identity theft. Your FSA ID should remain private to prevent others from accessing your account. Tracking your financial aid rewards can help you recognize if someone is altering your information. The following tips on avoiding identity theft can help protect you from the consequences of school scams:

  • Shred all documents containing your personal information when you are done with them.
  • Never share personal information via the phone or internet unless you have initiated contact.
  • Review privacy policies before providing personal information.

How to Recover from a School Scam

If you have suffered from a school scam of any kind, you should file a police report at your local police station. Once the initial police report has been filed, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is responsible for identifying and terminating various scams and cases of identity theft throughout the U.S., making them a great resource for preventing scams from affecting other victims in the future. Regardless, prompt reporting of a scam can stop it from taking advantage of you more and alert others of the threat.

It might also interest you: