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BBB Scam Alert: College Admission Tests

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For parents of high school students, SAT scores are a huge deal, with college admissions and scholarships on the line. Paying tutors are a form of preparation, but scammers are also lurking about and tricking parents into paying for bogus SAT prep materials.

Here’s how it can work: you get an unsolicited call from a person claiming to be from the College Board, the company responsible for SAT tests, or another educational organization.

“They’re telling them that if they pay, they can get CDs, videos, some other things like books – the prep materials that the child can use to study before they actually go for their test,” said Tammy Ward at the Better Business Bureau in Pensacola. She adds that many schools offer SAT materials free of charge, with some holding classes.

As for the unsolicited call, she says countering it is pretty straightforward.

“They should hang up immediately,” Ward said. “The College Board is not going to call anyone unsolicited, and they’re not going to ask you to pay for anything. For the most part, this is like a lot of other scams where you’re going to get an unsolicited call and you’re going to have to provide either money or personal information.”

Besides hanging up, Ward says take additional steps to protect yourself further, and see just how deep the attempted scam is dug in.

“Also double-check with your child, because [scammers] may be calling them themselves and not someone else,” Ward said. “But you also want to make sure that they are finding that information at their school. Make sure that the claim is legitimate before you call back if you haven’t received a phone call from them.”

SAT information is available at collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat.  The SAT scams, says Ward, are similar to the “emergency” scam; where they’re trying to get your child to do something, or trying to get you to do something for your child under the guise of an accident, arrest, or some other negative incident. And if you decided to make such a purchase, do so with a credit card only.

“Do not use a debit card; do not use any other way. You never want to pay someone that you do not know, and you have not met, with any of those types of [payments],” said Ward. “Because you won’t be getting your money back – it’s just like handing them cash. So you want to use a credit card, and that way you can dispute that if something does happen and you’ve been scammed out of your money.”

Up until now, our focus has been on the SAT. But Ward says the precautions also apply to the other college entrance exam, American College Testing.

“The SATs are more of the scam reports that we’ve been getting, but the ACTs are very similar, and the fact that they would probably call and do the same thing to them,” said Ward. “They’re just using the SATs because, for the most part, that’s better known than the ACT is.”

College admission scams were brought to light in 2019, when some Hollywood celebrities sought to grease the skids for their children. The highest-profile was Lori Laughlin – Aunt Becky on the TV series “Full House” – involving her two daughters.

“We’re here today to announce charges in the largest college admissions scam every prosecuted by the Department of Justice,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen. Under a plea agreement, Laughlin served just under two months in federal prison and fined $150,000.

“You can check with bbb.org, or you can give us a call at (850) 429-0002 if you suspect you’ve received a phone call that maybe a scam,” said the BBB’s Tammy Ward. “Or you can go on our ScamTracker at actually report the scam at bbb.org/ScamTracker.”