Last Updated on August 16, 2023
Applying to college can be highly competitive, especially for the schools you or your child want to attend.
Good grades, a strong personal statement, high test scores, and a background of varying experiences can all help.
Ultimately, it may come down to the admission process for a particular college. If you don’t ace the admissions steps, you could find the application to your dream school denied.
That’s why some prospective college students and their parents turn to companies or professionals that help with admissions. While many of these counselors are legitimate, this is also a business segment that scammers may target.
Scammers thrive when people are unfamiliar with a process and are desperate for answers and help. Highly competitive college admissions processes fit into these criteria.
Scammers take advantage of your urgency to trick you into giving up personal information and money for services they will never deliver (properly, at least). They try to convince you to act fast before you think about what is happening.
Protecting your family and child from college admission scams’ consequences takes work. However, it’s worth it as a key step before you can send your young adult off traveling to their dream school.
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How a College Admissions Scam May Work
Admissions scams regarding college applications may work in a couple of different ways.
Fake College Admissions Consulting Agencies
Due to the challenges in optimally completing college applications, some people seek help.
For a highly competitive application process, even a little help from a consulting agency may be enough to push your application to the top of the pile.
Hundreds of consulting agencies offer to help you and your family work on the admissions process. By hiring an agency, you potentially can benefit from the services they provide, including:
- Helping students fill out admissions forms
- Help with writing a personal statement
- Preparing a student for a face-to-face interview
- Improving the student’s writing skills
- Helping students find resources to prepare for standardized tests
- Helping students find financial aid resources and scholarships
However, not all agencies are legitimate. Some people or companies posing as consultancy agencies or professionals are scammers looking to steal your personal information, perhaps to sell on the dark web for a profit.
Be wary of any agency that quotes you a price for a significantly lower amount than what is average. This could be a sign of a scam.
Additionally, some scams involve illegitimate agencies attempting to steal money from you. They charge you fees without actually providing any help.
Fake Information on Your Student’s Application
Of course, one of the most well-known college admissions scandals came to light just a few years ago.
Nicknamed “Operation Varsity Blues,” this scam involved parents paying a fake agency to create a stronger university application for their children. The scammer created fake activities the children participated in to help them secure college scholarships.
The scammer also provided bribes to admissions officials and school coaches – paid for by the parents.
This scam is not something a typical person will encounter as part of the college admission consultancy process.
However, suppose you hire an unscrupulous college admission consulting agency. In that case, it may offer to create an application with fake information on it to boost your child’s chances of a successful application. Eventually, this could lead to the agency suggesting using bribes.
Getting caught participating in a scam like this could lead to fines and jail time. Giving the agency extra money for bribes also could be a scam, as the agency may simply disappear with the money.
Other Common Scams Related to College Applications and Attendance
When your child is applying to schools for the first time – and even after the child picks a school – scammers may target you and your child. Some of the scams first-time college students especially should watch for include:
- Fake Services: You may find fake service companies that offer to help with moving or that offer to pair your student with a potential off-campus roommate. After you pay your down payment fees, the service company disappears.
- Fake Supplies: Scammers may offer to sell your students things they need for living away from home for the first time, like a bed, appliances, or classroom books, at a highly reduced rate. If the rates seem too good to be true, they probably are.
- Fake Off-Campus Rentals: Rental scams are common in areas with universities where rental markets are highly competitive and pricey. Scammers may list a property online as being available for rent. They convince you to put in a security deposit to hold your right to rent the place until you can see it in person. However, the scammers don’t even own the property.
- Fake Part-Time Jobs: If your college student is looking for a part-time job they can start as soon as they arrive on campus, watch out for fake job offerings. Such jobs often require you to send some application fees to qualify, which is a sure sign of a scam.
- Fake Scholarships: Organizations that reach out to your student unsolicited to offer a scholarship or grant could be scammers. If they ask for an application fee or want you to submit quite a bit of personal information to qualify, be wary.
- Fake Student Loans: Student loan scammers target established students and graduates preparing to pay back their student loans. However, your freshman could receive a loan offer out of the blue. If you apply, your personal information could be in jeopardy with the scammer. Stick with well-known, trusted lenders.
- Fake Tuition Payment Discounts: One newer type of scam that could hit freshmen hard is a tuition payment scam. The scammer may contact the student, offering a discount on the tuition bill by paying in full with a credit or debit card. This is almost certainly a scam. Only pay tuition directly to the school.
- Misleading Credit Card Offers: As students go to school and live independently for the first time, they may receive solicitations for credit card applications. Credit card companies often target freshmen on campus. Some offers have higher-than-average interest rates, annual fees, and other fees that a freshman may not understand.
- Requesting Social Security Numbers: A few decades ago, colleges printed Social Security Numbers (SSNs) on student ID cards. Of course, that’s no longer the case. New students need to know their SSNs, but they should guard this number closely. People or organizations that contact you for things related to college admissions that immediately ask for an SSN are probably setting up a scam.
Scammers often target students new to campus with these types of scams or misleading offers for a couple of reasons.
- First, they know that many students are moving to the college town for the first time, and their parents may not be familiar with what is available in the city. This makes it easier to set up a fake online listing.
- Second, scammers hope college-aged kids are not savvy enough to spot scams.
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How to Protect Yourself and Your Student From Potential College Admission Scams
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When students go to college for the first time and live independently, parents often focus on helping them with basic skills like doing laundry, managing a bank account, and cooking.
However, parents should also help their kids be cyber-aware and skeptical of deals that seem too good to be true. Watching out for scammers is a key skill every college student should have.
Here are some important ways to protect new students from scams as they go to college.
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Don’t Be Tempted to Cheat in the Admissions Process
An admissions consultant who offers to help you with the admissions process by lying on your forms is almost certainly a scammer. This consultant will probably ask you for extra fees or may even offer to bribe admissions officials at your school.
As was shown through Operation Varsity Blues, this is an illegal process. Chances are high that someone at the college will catch on to the fake application forms at some point, likely making you no longer eligible to attend the school.
Now that admissions officials are more aware of this scam, they will have safeguards.
Take the Time to Do Your Research
Before hiring any admissions consulting agency, do some research on the capabilities of the agency. Look for online reviews and ask the agency for references.
Agencies should not charge you retainer fees. They also should not force you to decide quickly on hiring them. You should be given the time to make your choice. When the agency pressures you or even threatens you to sign up now or lose your chance, this is a scam.
Be Wary of Hidden Fees
When speaking with a university admissions consulting agency, do not be afraid to ask about the fees. Any agency that refuses to be upfront about fees may not be a legitimate consulting firm.
Any contract you sign with the agency should clearly spell out the fees. What you don’t want to happen is that the agency starts the application process for you and then decides to charge you more for services that weren’t explained before you hired the agency.
Additionally, be wary of an agency that offers far lower fees than the other agencies you are considering. Such low fees may be a marketing ploy to convince you to hire the agency. Once you’re locked in as a customer, the agency would add multiple add-on fees to quickly drive up the cost.
Ask about any money-back guarantees that the agency offers. If the agency takes too long to provide the services or suddenly wants to increase your fees, a money-back guarantee in writing can potentially help you.
Remember, many agencies are legitimate and will do exactly what they promise. Worries over being scammed shouldn’t deter you from using an agency like this.
However, always watch for signs of a scam to protect yourself and your student.
Trust Your Gut
An average soon-to-be college student may not have much experience trying to spot scams, but you should.
If something feels off about your child’s college admission, or if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your gut.
Tell your children to be skeptical about offers they receive, especially unsolicited ones.
Ask them to contact you immediately for help with any concerns related to a potential scam.
Identity Theft Can Be a Consequence of a College Admission Scam
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When a college admissions consultant doesn’t ask you for money upfront as part of the services, you may take this as a sign that the process is legitimate.
However, some scammers are more interested in stealing your child’s or your identification. By not charging you upfront, scammers may be playing the long game, seeking a bigger payday from your valuable information.
As part of applying to colleges, you will have to submit quite a bit of personal information, some of which is highly sensitive. Such information is extremely valuable for a cybercriminal
Always check out the legitimacy of any college admissions consulting agency you consider hiring. Look at online reviews and check with the local Better Business Bureau to vet any agency before you submit personal information.
If the agency wants quite a bit of personal information about you and your child before you even agree to sign up for the service, this is a sign of a potential scam.
The College Admissions Process Can Alert You to a Past Identity Theft
Some scammers prefer to target a child’s identity when they are trying to steal personally identifying information.
Scammers like targeting children because it may take several years before parents discover the problem. After all, kids aren’t applying for loans or frequently using their personal information before they become adults.
Unfortunately, the theft of the child’s identity several years earlier may only become obvious for the first time when the child begins applying to colleges.
This can be a jarring feeling for the entire family. It also can take quite a while to straighten out the situation.
Ultimately, the theft of the child’s identity could leave the child unable to get into a favorite college because of the time required to recover the identity.
ID Theft Protection Subscriptions Can Help Guard Your Child’s Identity
If you want to give your child some protection years before the college application process begins, consider subscribing to one of the best identity theft protection services.
You can subscribe to a family plan. With most services, this provides identity monitoring for at least two adults and several children.
The ID theft protection service, a great example of which is Aura, also helps if you or your child become the victim of a college admission scam that puts your identifying information at risk.
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Do Not Rush Through the Admissions Process – Watch for Signs of a Scam
Although it can feel like you have to hurry when trying to apply to your preferred college, rushing often leads to mistakes. Such mistakes could leave you vulnerable to scammers.
It’s far easier to spot the warning signs of a scam for college admissions when you take your time and think about what is being asked.
Ultimately, if what you are asked as part of the college application process feels off, it probably is. Trusting your gut is a good way to avoid all kinds of scams, including college admissions scams.
Other Types of Scams You Need To Know: