Scholarship Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Them

We all dream of a brighter future, and for many of us, education is the key to unlocking that door. Scholarships are a fantastic way to support your academic dreams, but unfortunately, not all opportunities out there are genuine. The internet is filled with scholarship scams waiting to prey on unsuspecting students. But fear not! I’m here to arm you with the knowledge you need to spot and avoid these scams, ensuring that your educational journey remains smooth and scam-free.

1. Too good to be true? It probably is:

Use common sense and question how likely it is that the information being presented is legitimate. Let’s face it: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be cautious of scholarships that promise guaranteed awards or claim that you’ve won without applying. Legitimate scholarships require effort, such as writing essays, submitting your academic achievements, or attending interviews. If it sounds too easy, it’s likely a scam.

2. Be wary of a sense of urgency:

While some scholarships do have deadlines, you likely wouldn’t be contacted a few hours or days beforehand. In fact, it’s unlikely that someone providing a real scholarship would ever contact you asking you to apply. Crooks use the tactic of creating a sense of urgency to throw you off your guard and comply with whatever they’re asking.

For example, below is a June 2019 scam report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker. This scholarship scam phishing email included a timeframe within which the recipient should respond (24 hours). Otherwise, the sender threatened, someone else would be selected for the scholarship.

3. Application fees are red flags:

Legitimate scholarships do not require any application fees. If you’re asked to pay a fee to apply for a scholarship, it’s a clear sign of a scam. Always remember that scholarships are meant to help you financially, not the other way around.

4. Protect your personal information:

Be cautious about sharing personal or financial information online. Scammers can use this information for identity theft or other fraudulent activities. Legitimate scholarship providers will not ask for your bank account details or social security number during the application process. Even for seemingly innocuous information like your name, address, and phone number, you should fully vet the organization before sending.

5. The promise of exclusive information should be a red flag:

If an organization is promising exclusive access to a scholarship, question whether this would make sense. Information about the vast majority of scholarships is made publicly available so that everyone who is eligible will have an equal opportunity to apply.

6. Trust your instincts:

If something feels off, trust your instincts. If you received an email or a message that seems suspicious, take time to investigate or research before responding. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from teachers, school counselors, or family members if you’re unsure about the legitimacy of a scholarship offer. 

7. Check for red flags:

This includes spelling and grammar mistakes, unprofessional-looking emails, and unofficial websites are red flags. Legitimate organizations take care to present themselves professionally. Typos and poorly designed websites indicate a lack of professionalism and could be signs of a scam.

8. Watch out for the following suspicious key phrases:

Not sure if an offer is a scam? Here’s how to tell. If someone advertises an offer with any of these phrases, or a variation, it’s a scam.

  • Scammers say: “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.”
  • Scammers say: “You can’t get this information anywhere else.”
  • Scammers say: “I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.”
  • Scammers say: “We’ll do all the work. You just pay a processing fee.”
  • Scammers say: “The scholarship will cost some money.”
  • Scammers say: “You’re a finalist [for a contest you never entered].”

9. Seek guidance:

Reach out to trusted sources for guidance. Your school’s guidance counselor or a teacher can often help you identify legitimate scholarship opportunities. They have experience in dealing with scholarships and can provide valuable advice to help you distinguish between genuine offers and scams.

Remember, education is an investment in your future, and there are countless genuine scholarships waiting for deserving students like you. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and keep chasing your dreams without falling victim to scams. By following these tips, you can navigate the scholarship landscape safely, ensuring that your educational journey is as smooth as possible.

Stay safe and keep dreaming big. Happy scholarship hunting!

References: 

How to Avoid a Scholarship Scam | SafeWise

How To Avoid Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams | Consumer Advice (ftc.gov)

How to Spot and Avoid the Most Common Scholarship Scams | Scholarship Informer


Paul Bergman runs a business strategy and cybersecurity consulting company in San Diego. He writes on cybersecurity and board management for both corporate and nonprofit boards.

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