What’s the Issue?
Many dishonest companies guarantee or promise scholarships, grants or fantastic financial aid packages. Many use high pressure sales pitches at seminars where you're required to pay immediately or risk losing out on the "opportunity." Most offer a "money back guarantee"- but then attach conditions that make it impossible to get the refund. Others provide nothing for the student's advance fee - not even a list of potential sources; still others tell students they've been selected as "finalists" for awards that require an up-front fee. Sometimes, these companies ask for a student's checking account to "confirm eligibility," then debit the account without the student's consent. Other companies quote only a relatively small "monthly" or "weekly" fee and then ask for authorization to debit your checking account - for an undetermined length of time.
How does this affect me?
The FTC cautions students to look and listen for these tell-tale lines:
- The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back."
- "You can't get this information anywhere else."
- "I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship."
- "We'll do all the work."
- "The scholarship will cost some money."
- "You've been selected" by a "national foundation" to receive a scholarship - or "You're a finalist" in a contest you never entered.
If you attend a seminar on financial aid or scholarships, follow these steps:
- Take your time. Don't be rushed into paying at the seminar. 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 organization you're considering paying for help. Talk to a guidance counselor or financial aid advisor before spending your money. You may be able to get the same help for free.
- Be wary of "success stories" or testimonials of extraordinary success - the seminar operation may have paid "shills" to give glowing stories. Instead, ask for a list of at least three local families who've used the services in the last year. Ask each if they're satisfied with the products and services received.
- Be cautious about purchasing from seminar representatives who are reluctant to answer questions or who give evasive answers to your questions. Legitimate business people are more than willing to give you information about their service.
- Ask how much money is charged for the service, the services that will be performed and the company's refund policy. Get this information in writing. Keep in mind that you may never recoup the money you give to an unscrupulous operator, despite stated refund policies.