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Steer Clear of ID Theft When Applying Online

Steer Clear of ID Theft When Applying Online

Make sure your personal information is safe when applying for scholarships.

By Bridget Kulla

April 21, 2009

Ever been in the middle of an application and thought to yourself, “What’s going to happen to my information?” You might jot down your name, address, phone number, e-mail address and even your social security number without thinking about it. But with identity theft on the rise, it’s important to protect and safeguard your personal information, including when you apply for scholarships and financial aid.

Understand the Privacy Policy

If you are concerned about how a scholarship provider will use your information, check the sponsor’s web site for a privacy policy. Look for specific details under such headings as “Information Use,” “Information Collection” or “Information Sharing.” If you don’t understand the privacy policy, ask the sponsor or someone you trust about what it means.

Carefully consider the consequences when applying for a scholarship that requires disclosure of your qualifications or other personal attributes you may wish to keep private (e.g., a scholarship for homosexual students). Many sponsors want to spread awareness about their cause, which means they may require permission to use your name and other identifying information when promoting the winners of the scholarship. If you have questions about how this type of information will be used, ask the sponsor and check over your privacy rights before you apply.

Do Your Homework and Trust Your Gut

Still doubt the legitimacy of a scholarship? Make sure you’re aware of common signs of scholarship scams.

For instance, no scholarship should ever charge a fee or require credit card or bank account numbers.

Check with your local Better Business Bureau office to see if any complaints have been filed against the organization. You can also check a domain name registration site such as Register.com, where you can look up contact information like address and phone number with the sponsor’s Web address. If you write to the e-mail address or contact information provided, and you don’t get a response or your message is returned, think twice about applying.

A big part of side-stepping scams is listening to your instincts. “If it feels wrong, if an organization asks for your social security number or bank account information, ask for help,” says Amy Weinstein, executive director of the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA). “Be skeptical and ask for help before you proceed.” If you suspect that you’ve been taken in by a scam, check here for what to do.


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