Applying to college is challenging. Financial burdens aside, the seemingly endless components of an application– ranging from transcripts, essays, to test scores– can overwhelm.
Students applying for higher education have risen steadily over several years. Notable industries serving demands for standardized test preparation, are a lucrative niche of the college application process.
A year ago, as a high-school junior embarking on the SAT-journey, I took advantage of many free online resources. Yet, there were willing ‘lurkers’ taking advantage of my family’s anxiety surrounding these tests.
One night, at the dinner table, my mom asked me, “Have you gotten your SAT materials yet?” Puzzled, I asked, “Which materials?”
My mother outlined the phone-call she’d received, informing her that I’d “ordered” a SAT guide with practice materials. Believing them, she promptly handed over her credit-card number. Over the next few months, we noticed suspicious billing in her bank account totaling up to hundreds of dollars.
Upon reflection, my mother admitted that she’s “willing to do anything for her children.” Whereas she’d normally have proceeded with caution, she lowered her barriers, believing she was helping me.
My recent experience with this scam has made me more aware and cautious of products, especially online. After reading the 2019 BBB ScamTracker Risk Report I’ve learned that our story isn’t unique, but is preventable. I now consider a few rules of thumb when assessing a product.
1) Minimize entering personal information (like phone numbers, emails, addresses) on websites. Especially without reading their privacy policies. Oftentimes they sell personal information to scammers. I’ve often wondered where the scammers received our phone-number from. Truthfully, I’ve entered my personal information into countless scholarship databases and college-prep newsletters. I’ve unthinkingly clicked “Agree” to Terms & Conditions without reading their privacy policies. Young people often enter personal information on social media. Sites frequently sell this information.
2) There’s no hurry to make a payment. The scammers pushed my mother to reveal her credit card number, with various excuses
to make her feel a sense of urgency. Had she discussed before paying, she’d have quickly realized the scam. Many phone-scammers pretend that they are in a position of authority– as police, social security, or IRS agents– and tell you to “pay up, or less.” Younger people, not having much experience, are susceptible to threats over the phone and rush to make payments.
3) Internet reviews are your best friend. When shopping online, it’s important to investigate others’ experiences with the product in question. Angry customers leave reviews, which can indicate a product’s legitimacy. I look for at least 100 reviews on a product with 75% or more positive ratings. Hyperbole in reviewers’ tones– such as capital-letters or exclamation points– are a red flag. No product is perfect, and it’s likely these reviews are either fake or paid. Moreover, look for reviews on platforms besides the vendor’s website to ensure validity.
Consumers are an essential component of today’s marketplace. However, there are those who’re willing to take advantage of us. It’s crucial to proceed with the utmost caution in order to prevent oneself from falling victim to scams.