Vol 1: Issue 4  |  Home   


Scholarship Scams – Identifying and protecting yourself from them

Life being what it is, there'll always be those who will work hardest at trying to separate you from your hard earned money and sad to say, the scholarship arena does have its share of "scammers". Because scholarship scams are a problem, we can't stress enough the importance of your being careful before you give out any money for a scholarship.

Underscoring the seriousness of scholarship scams, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), National Fraud Information Center (NFIC) and Congress have enacted legislation and passed laws to help educate and protect consumers against potential scammers. According to the FTC, these companies promise just about anything to get money from you. For example, they will guarantee or promise scholarships or grants to students, or guarantee that they can get scholarships on a student's behalf or even better yet, students will be awarded "scholarships" in exchange for a fee. Many will offer a "money-back guarantee," but attach conditions that make it impossible to get a refund. Others might provide nothing for the student's advance fee, not even a list of potential sources of scholarship funds. Still others will inform students that they've won a contest they hadn't even entered and that requires an advance fee to redeem. Companies have even asked for a student's checking account to "confirm eligibility," then debit the account once the information is received.

Since everyone knows the cost of secondary education is high, scam artists will use this fact to drive their sales pitch. The more information they can feed the parent about the high costs of secondary education... is often enough to make the completely uninformed consumer consider the service. What makes these scams especially difficult to avoid is that they play on people's worst fears: the fear of not having enough money to pay for college tuition. Even people who laugh at the thought of buying something on an infomercial might not think twice about handing over money to a company that promises an easy solution to financial aid.

To make matters worse, businesses of this nature normally target families of high school seniors - (firms sell lists of names for marketing purposes all the time) - whose families are naturally concerned about obtaining funds to help pay for college and, unfortunately, generally naive about such illegal operations.

So what can be done to prevent this from happening to you? Become aware and alerted to the possibility that you could become the victim of a scam. Following these common sense tips published by the FTC should raise your suspicions of a possible scam...

  If you're told...The scholarships/grants are completely guaranteed or your money will be refunded.

  If you're told...You won't find this scholarship information anywhere else.

  If you're told...Just provide your credit/debit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.

  If you're told...We'll do all the work for you.

  If you're told...You’ve been selected by a 'national foundation' to receive a scholarship.

  If you're told...You are a finalist in a contest that you never entered.

...You just might want to consider the possibility of the call or correspondence being a scam.

Don't be fooled by "official sounding" names. Just because a company uses words like 'National,' 'Federal,' 'Foundation' or 'Administration' in its title doesn't mean it's a legitimate operation.

Please note that the FTC also states, that there are legitimate companies that advertise and provide students with access to lists of scholarships in exchange for an advance fee. Others charge an advance fee to compare a student's profile with a database of scholarship opportunities and provide a list of awards for which a student may qualify. The only difference between a legitimate or illegitimate company is this: a legitimate company will never guarantee or promise that you will get scholarships or grants.

So be aware, ask questions and make sure you are dealing with a legitimate source before parting with your money.

If you think you are the victim of a scam and want to file a complaint, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the online complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov/


Seminars – What to Look for and Expect

In the past few years, seminar presentations have become popular by using fancy handouts, brochures, over-heads and even short film clips to add the appearance of legitimacy by the presenting organization.

If you decide to attend a seminar, follow these sensible tips...

Take your time...

Avoid high-pressure sales pitches that require you to buy now or risk losing out on the opportunity. Solid opportunities are not sold through nerve-racking tactics...

Investigate the company before putting down any money. Have you heard of them before? Can they provide you with endorsements...

Beware of testimonials of extraordinary success - the seminar operation may have paid "shills" to give glowing stories…

Be concerned if there is no scheduled Q & A session during or at the end of the presentation...

We aren't telling you not to go to seminars, as there are those that legitimately sell college financial aid services, etc. but if the presentation contains promises that sound too good to be true, be wary.

If you feel the marketing copy was produced by the same people who create late night infomercials, then you might, in all probability be looking at an organization that will unashamedly ask you to part with your money for worthless information. Sign nothing, take what literature you were given home, then study it, and make inquiries where possible. If any doubts arise... don't buy.


Real Life College Horror Stories

How Many Times Can a Financial Aid Office Loose Your Documents?

You would be surprised. One Philadelphia school lost a family's parent and student federal tax returns, the accompanying verification forms and a requested copy of SAR, three times. Not to be outdone, another school, (south of Philadelphia), their financial aid office's staff feeling the competitive urge surging throughout their collective veins, broke the record. They lost the tax returns and verification forms four times (a copy of the SAR was not requested, making it the all-time record through this reporter's ten years of experience.

Staying within the state, another school's urge to create a legend in their own time lost the special circumstances forms of three different families a combined seven times. When questioned why PHEAA (Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority) received their state special circumstances or grant appeal forms from the families, and the school had not, the school said they'd never received them.

Another school across the Delaware River, in an effort to bring a family's account current, kept insisting they had not received the family's check in over a month. The family, now confused, had made two stop payments before sending the third check registered mail. To add to the fun of growing confusion, enveloping frustration and generally the overall festive angst mood of check, check, who has the check, the school sent the family five tuition bills, each with a different amount due. One may expect the amounts to vary by a hundred dollars, however, leaving no stone unturned, this institution had the check's tuition due amounts vary by $2,000.00 (and you thought creativity was becoming a thing of the past).

Finally another school, who was handling the financial aid and academic transcripts of a transfer student, in a maneuver that still defies explanation to this day, asked the student three times to have his current school forward the required transcripts. The financial aid transcript is forwarded to the student who signs it and sends it to the school she or he is transferring too, while the academic transcript is from institution to institution.

An apparently simple enough maneuver, especially considering the schools were a mere twenty miles apart and the student who was transferring was attending a community college that was part of the four-year school's consortium agreement.

If you have a horror story you’d like to share, please contact Ray at ray@efinancialaid.com


College Survival Tips... What to do When You Feel You're Falling Behind Academically

This is a tough question as everyone responds differently, however years of experience with many students has helped me focus on situations of this nature. It can be a terrible, sinking feeling that lodges itself deep into the pit of your stomach or a haunting thought that just won't go away.

First rule of thumb is to identify the academic and/or personal causes that are generating these feelings. Are you falling behind in your grades, and if so... what's the cause? Are you spending too much time on extra curricular activities, with your girl (or boy) friend, watching too much TV when you should be studying? This may be the most difficult part of the entire process... facing your tormentor and to recognize what academic weakness it has exposed to produce these feelings. Once you've done this, the next step is to develop a strategy to halt the decline and begin to bring yourself to the point where you are again in control of your personal and/or academic life.

For those of you who are self-sufficient and able to tackle problems on your own, this article is probably not for you, but for the rest of you who have spent a few nights awake because of worries, or who have stomachs that are in a continuous state of anxiety because of grades, finances, life in general, read on...

As I stated earlier, we are concentrating on the falling behind feelings generated by sudden or subtle long-term actions. Obviously, you need to see your professor(s) and explain what's going on, where you think you began to fall behind and your desire to regain control. You may be surprised to learn you aren't the professor's first nor unfortunately her/his last student to feel this way. Ask if tutoring is available, what would be the best means to close the gap, and then stick to it faithfully.

It also wouldn't hurt to talk to a trusted friend about what you're experiencing and ask him/her what he/she would do if they were in your situation. Ask him/her for help, if they would occasionally ask how things are going or if you wanted to talk about things that may be bothering you. Once this is done, talk about everything from what was the cafeteria's mystery meat to what is the worst movie you ever wasted money on to see. Laugh; order food you've been dying to eat. Now that you've discussed identified the cause of your problem and the solutions to rectify it and shared it with a friend, relax.

The remedies may require seeing the professor and a tutor separately during each remaining week of the semester. You may have to lock yourself away from Friday evening until Monday morning to catch up. Or, as this writer once did, spend six weeks at the library's study annex that closes 1 AM Sunday through Friday evenings and 9 PM Saturday nights. At the end of six weeks not only had I eliminated the being behind syndrome, but came to comprehend fully the courses that had me confused for weeks.

Whatever means you choose don't wait until you have fallen too far behind. You don't want alternatives to be that you have failed the class, or by the God-like mercy of the professor passed the course with a D or D-.


Odds and Ends - Some Common Myths about Financial Aid

Myth: My family makes too much money. We don't qualify for financial aid.

Truth: Although some grants do have family income limits, they vary from grant to grant. Certain grants that are provided by your school may not have income limits at all, or their limit may be much higher, therefore making you eligible for one grant, while being ineligible for another.

Also, keep in mind that the more income information the financial office has to work with, the more they can assist you. If your family income suddenly changes and you find yourself needing a loan or work study, the college financial aid office can help you much faster if they already have the financial aid information from FAFSA

Myth: Isn't financial aid just for minorities?

Truth: No. No. No. FAFSA does not ask for a student's ethnic background and a student's ethnicity does not play a part in the processing of FAFSA

Myth: I live with my grandma, so I can just put her income information down, right?

Truth: No. FAFSA wants only the income information of your biological parents or step parents. See your high school counselor for help with your FAFSA if you do not live with either of your biological/step parents.

Myth: I am going to live on my own and my parents say they won't give me any money for college. I can just leave out their income information, right?

Truth: Wrong. Until the age of 24, you will be considered a dependant of your parents regardless of whether or not they give you money or claim you on their taxes. If you have unique circumstances where you do not have contact with your parent(s), see your high school counselor or a PACT Advisor for help completing your FAFSA

Myth: My parent(s) haven't completed their taxes yet. I can't complete my FAFSA without that information.

Truth: Wrong. You can complete your FAFSA as long as you have an estimate of your parent(s) income. Once you have obtained the correct tax information, you can use your SAR to make corrections. As long as your original FAFSA is completed and submitted before the March 2nd deadline, you can make as many corrections as you need to after the deadline.


College Humor -

Without the Greeks we wouldn't have history. The Greeks invented three kinds of columns - Corinthian, Doric, and Ironic. They also had myths. A myth is a female moth. One myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intolerable. Achilles appears in The Iliad, by Homer. Homer also wrote The Oddity, in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of that name.

Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.

In the Olympic games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the biscuits, and threw the java. The reward to the victor was a coral wreath. The government of Athens was democratic because people took the law into their own hands. There were no wars in Greece, as the mountains were so high that they couldn't climb over to see what their neighbors were doing. When they fought with the Persians, the Greeks were outnumbered because the Persians had more men.


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