Call 12 for Action

BBB: Beware of college scholarship scams

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — You got into college. Now you have to figure out how to pay for it.

"You can often go right through your high school and they’ll help guide you through the different applications for grants for scholarships," Paula Fleming of the Better Business Bureau explained. "There are so many out there. Some are smaller, $500, all the way up to thousands of dollars." 

Although, lurking among the legitimate scholarships are scammers who want to take advantage of students and their parents, according to Fleming. The scams often start with unsolicited emails, calls, or social media posts.

"They ask for money to apply for a scholarship," Fleming said. "They promise you that you’re going to get this funding toward your college and it’s actually a scam. Not only are you providing financial info, but you’re actually paying them to do nothing." 

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there are several phrases that are red flags:

  • "The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back."
  • "You've been selected" by a "national foundation" to receive a scholarship.
  • "We'll do all the work. You just pay a processing fee."
  • "The scholarship will cost some money."

The FTC says there are legitimate companies and services that can help connect students and scholarships. The agency says the legitimate ones will never guarantee scholarships or grants.

Here are some free sources of scholarship information, according to the U.S. Department of Education:

  • Financial aid office at a college or career school
  • High school or TRIO counselor
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool
  • Federal agencies
  • State grant agencies
  • Library’s reference section
  • Foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups
  • Organizations (including professional associations) related to your field of interest
  • Ethnicity-based organizations
  • Your employer or your parents’ employers

Students should fill out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It determines eligibility for all federal programs, and many colleges and universities use it for non-need-based awards.

Several websites offer help filing the FAFSA form for a cost, but they are not endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and there's no reason to waste your money on a free application.

Susan Campbell ( is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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