10 Tips on How to Spot Scholarship Scams

Phishing and internet scams are nothing new in this technological day and age. Scammers know college can be expensive and take advantage of that by saying they will help you get scholarships or financial aid to pay for school. In reality, they want to take advantage and solicit your money or personal information, which is why it’s important to stay aware. 

When applying for scholarships or financial aid opportunities, you must be able to distinguish between legitimate offers and scams. 

This article will teach you how to spot scholarship scams, provide tips for avoiding them, and advise you on how to find legitimate scholarships.

10 Ways to Spot Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams

There are several ways to identify fake scholarships or financial aid scams. Scammers use various tactics to get you to give them something in exchange for their help finding you a scholarship or applying for financial aid. If you feel something is off about an offer, trust your gut and don’t apply for or accept it.

1. Payments in Exchange for a Scholarship 

Legitimate scholarships are free to apply for. However, scammers may guarantee you’ll get a scholarship if you make a payment to “reserve,” “redeem,” or “process” your offer. They may tell you it costs money to apply for a scholarship, and then you never hear from them again once you pay the application fee. 

2. Guarantees and Promises 

Similarly, scammers often guarantee or promise you’ll get a scholarship in exchange for your money. Legitimate companies never promise scholarships. 

3. Request for Bank Account or Personal Information 

Illegitimate scholarship companies may ask you for your bank information to verify your eligibility or your personal information to fill out an application form. Therefore, never hand over your bank account, credit card, social security number, or other confidential personal data during the application process.

If you are awarded a scholarship, providers will likely ask you for further information about where to send your prize money. 

Please note that legitimate providers may ask for common information during the application process (i.e.,your name, address, phone number, and email address). They typically request this information so they know how to contact you, if needed. Nevertheless, if you’re having doubts about whether or not to provide this information, legitimate organizations will be happy to answer any questions about how your data will be used. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

4. Offers for Scholarships You Never Solicited 

If you get a message, phone call, or email saying you’ve won a scholarship that you never applied to, it’s almost always a scam. Scholarships are awarded through an application process and are never randomly handed out, unless it is a distinguished nomination. If you’re unsure, double check with your school’s guidance counselor or college advisor. 

5. Scholarship Matching Services “Guaranteeing” Aid

Scholarship search services can be legitimate. However, the difference between a real and a fake agency is that a real one will never guarantee you’ll be awarded a scholarship. Illegitimate ones may promise you a scholarship or say they’ll refund your money if you’re not awarded one. The refund conditions may be impossible, or you may never hear back from them. 

In reality, these services can provide valuable resources, but you should do your research about the organization and others’ experiences, if possible.

6. High-Pressure Sales Pitches

If you hear there is a “limited-time offer” scholarship or someone is pressuring you to apply quickly, it’s likely a scam. Legitimate scholarship providers typically give students ample time to complete their applications, have a deadline set months in advance, and do not need to pressure students to apply. If you feel a provider is being too salesy or pushy, then don’t apply.

6. Open-Ended Eligibility 

Scholarships typically state some form of specific guidelines about who is eligible for the scholarship. For example, offers could be limited to particular grade levels, enrollment statuses, areas of study, income levels, or a number of other criteria.

Scholarships that are open to anyone and everyone without specific criteria should raise a red flag. Do thorough research and check if the website lists previous winners and whether the testimonials are credible.

8. Lack of Contact Information and Details

Scholarship organizations generally list an address and contact information, such as a phone number or email address where students can reach out with questions. False providers may omit or invent these details. Be sure to see if everything checks out by calling the phone number and looking up the address prior to applying or submitting any personal information. 

Additionally, if a provider is reluctant to provide further information and details, this should alarm you. Legitimate scholarship representatives will be happy to answer any questions and provide as many details as you need. 

9. Companies Claiming to Increase Your Financial Aid Eligibility

Some companies offer to help you get more financial aid, loans, grants, and other types of aid in exchange for a processing fee. This process may entail filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and lying about details on the form to make you appear eligible for more aid.

Falsifying a FAFSA application is grounds for hefty fines (up to $20,000) and even jail time. Steer clear of any companies offering to fill out this free form. Instead, students and families should fill it out on their own and submit it. 

Never share your FAFSA login information with anyone; they could use it to enter your account and steal your personal information.

10. An Offer or Award That Sounds “Too Good to be True”

The “too good to be true” rule is the best to follow when applying for scholarships and financial aid. There are millions of scholarships you can apply to, so if an offer seems like it could be fake, then find another one! Always trust your gut, do the necessary research, and ensure that your information is being sent and stored in a secure system.

What to do if You Suspect a Scholarship or Financial Aid Scam?

You should report any scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at Reportfraud.ftc.gov and file a complaint with your state attorney general. 

If you have already been scammed, check out the FTC’s article about what to do if you’ve been scammed and take immediate action.

How to Find Real Scholarships 

Once you know how to avoid scholarship scams and red flags, you can use the following tips to find real ones. 

  • Talk to your guidance counselor (if you’re a high school student or parent) or the financial aid office (if you’re a college student) - ask about scholarship opportunities and financial aid options. 
  • Research before applying - look at a list of previous scholarship awardees and testimonials. Search the company, check the contact information, and see if the scholarship is listed on other reputable websites.
  • Use college scholarship search engines on reputable websites - Niche, Chegg, Fastweb, and College Board are a few examples of trusted sources. 
  • Go directly to your school’s website - colleges and universities typically list scholarships on their website. 
  • File your FAFSA - it’s free to submit; never pay anyone to do it for you. 
  • Check out government agencies and businesses - check federal agencies, your state’s grant agency, higher education agencies, businesses, and organizations related to your field for scholarships.

Wrapping Up

Awareness is the first step to preventing scholarship scammers from stealing your money or personal information. We encourage you to share this article with your friends and family looking for financial aid and scholarships to help them avoid scams. 

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