Every year, untold numbers of students and parents are the victims of scholarship scams. In fact, scholarship scams cost students over $100 million per year. Beware: scholarship scam artists often use "official-sounding" titles that feature words like "national" or "administration" to dupe unsuspecting students. These con artists take many forms, most commonly posing as government organizations, education lenders, grant-giving agencies, and scholarship matching services.
Scholarship Scam Warning Signs
Being able to recognize key warning signs might help you steer clear of possible scholarship traps. Always proceed with caution whenever dealing with an agency guilty of the following behaviors:
Take caution when applying for any scholarship that requires an application fee. Most scam scholarships ask for application fees ranging anywhere from $10 to $25. Others might ask for fees as as low as $2 or even as high as $5,000. As a rule, most legitimate scholarship sponsors do not require any type of application fee.
Be concerned if you are ever required to pay money to receive the award or even just to obtain information about a scholarship award. You should never have to pay more than the price of postage to receive information about scholarships. Remember: real scholarships are designed so students don’t have to pay.
All genuine scholarship sponsors seek students who best meet certain criteria. While some scholarships are not based on academic merit, athletic ability, or special talents, most scholarships expect excellence from their candidates in some area. No scholarship sponsors just hand out money to everyone who applies.
No real scholarship sponsor will ever guarantee that you will definitely be awarded a scholarship. Additionally, no scholarship matching service provides a guarantee either. Often times, when guarantees are made they include hidden conditions.
Claims of Influence
Many scholarship scams will claim to have influence with certain scholarship sponsors and in fact no scholarship search organization has ever had proof of influence.
Offers to Apply on Your Behalf
To receive a scholarship reward, it is imperative that you submit your own application and compose your own essays. If a scholarship service offers to apply on your behalf, they are probably not a legitimate organization, and are masking a deceptive incentive when offering to apply for you.
No Telephone Number
One common trait shared by most scholarship scam organizations is the lack of a contact phone number. Scam organizations shy away from posting long-term contact information because it is easily traceable.
Notification by Phone
While it will be hard for you to get a hold of scholarships scamsters by phone, they will have no problem calling you. Most official scholarships will notify winners by mail, so if you receive a phone call telling you that you have been awarded a scholarship, don’t get too excited. Proceed with caution, and request a name and telephone number before giving the caller too much personal information. Also browse the website.
No History of Past Winners
If an organization cannot provide a record of any previous winners, the scholarship contest could be a scam. While this is not always true with new scholarship programs, definitely keep your guard up and start asking serious question if any other warning signs should appear.
Receiving Notification that you Won an Contest You Never Entered
While you should be wary anytime you learn that you have won a contest without even entering, this is definitely a warning sign in all scholarship searches. Some scholarship scam organizations will even go so far as to contact random college students telling them they won a scholarship solely to get a hold of their personal information. If you are contacted by an unfamiliar scholarship organization, be sure to conduct research on the organization before providing them with any private information, as they may be attempting identity theft.
Typos and Spelling Errors
Application forms or "official" documents containing typographical or spelling errors are a trademark of scam organizations. If a website lacks a professional appearance overall, or seems to have been created by someone unfamiliar with standard English, there is a good chance that you are not dealing with an established scholarship organization. For example, lots of scams will mistakenly misspell scholarship as "scholorship."
How to Avoid Scholarship Scams
Ask for Advice
Meet with a high school counselor or financial aid officer and ask them to recommend a list of genuine scholarship contests.
Never Give Out Personal Information
Never willingly offer personal information"such as your Social Security Number, banking information, or other personal information"no matter how reasonable the request sounds.
Get Everything in Writing
Before accepting an award, obtain all necessary information in writing, including offers, cancellation, and refund policies.
Call Directory Assistance
To determine if a company is a legitimate scholarship organization, call directory assistant and find out whether they have a business listing. You can also search for an official listing online.