Used cars salesmen get much more bad press, but they’re a lot higher on the food chain than the scholarship scam artists who victimize tens of thousands of families a year.
Some in the higher education community believe these scammers put more than $100 million in their pockets every year.
Because the media bombard us with stories about escalating college costs, and because most of us know little about the availability of scholarships and financial aid, we’re often easy victims.
The con starts with a letter from a company named to sound like a benign organization whose mission is to assist students and their families.
The letter doesn’t look like the other junk mail you are deluged with every day. The company logo often looks like it might belong to Yale or Harvard, and the letterhead and paper look like they might come from the White House or a Fortune 500 company. Like the scammers themselves, the promotional materials they use look credible.
In nearly all the letters they send, the con men begin by reinforcing families’ fears about their ability to meet college costs. Not exactly a task requiring the intellect of a rocket scientist.
But, the letter says, we can help you. We can teach you how to get the financial aid you need. Your worries are over. In some instances the letters will mention “secrets colleges don’t want you to know”. Sometimes the letters will talk about millions of dollars in “unused” scholarships and financial aid; money just waiting to be found by and given to students who know the ropes (you!).
The letters are not always the same, but one element never varies. They invite you to come to a hotel function room or other reasonably large venue to learn more about financial aid and scholarships, at no cost. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?
The meetings are run by well- practiced pitchmen who tell families that their organization has the special knowledge and experience required to shake the most money off of the financial aid and scholarship trees. Their job, and they do it all too well, is to sell you help which is readily available elsewhere (and at no cost).
After the group presentation, families are invited to meet individually with staff members sometimes called counselors. In the world of sales, these folks are called “one call closers”…folks trained to close the sale immediately. Their job is very well defined: to get families to sign a contract and write a check for up to $2,000 before returning to the scam-free zones that are their homes.
Don’t be the victim of financial aid con men (and women). There are lots of good websites offering free scholarship searches and financial aid advice. And, high school counselors and college financial aid counselors will gladly give you advice and answer your questions. There is no need to turn elsewhere.