Common Scholarship Scams and How to Spot Them

Classrooms Team

Nov 16, 2020

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It’s no secret that the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket. Scammers know this truth as well, and they use it to prey on the unwary and desperate. 

How can you spot the most frequently seen scholarship scams? Learn how to alert yourself to the tactics that predators use so that you don’t get conned out of your hard-earned cash when you need it the most. 

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Scam Alert #1: The Email “Drawing”

You’ll see multiple variations of this scam. You could receive an email or even a social media alert that you won a scholarship drawing. The only problem is, you don’t remember entering anything. 

One way to identify this scholarship scam is to check the email address. Correspondence from an accredited school would never come from someone using Gmail or Yahoo. Another clue? The person writing to you doesn’t know your name or any other information. Correspondence filled with typos should likewise raise your eyebrows. 

If you suspect this type of scholarship scam, don’t reply to the message or click on any links. Instead, look for a phone number — if they don’t provide any means of contact, delete the correspondence. 

Scam Alert #2: The Snail Mail Approach

In today’s information age, people trust what they receive via snail mail more than what they find online. While most consumers quickly forget the scams of yesteryear, miscreants haven’t forgotten how to swindle folks via USPS. 

Imagine opening the mail and seeing a check with your name on it. Your first instinct is probably to head to the bank as soon as you finish jumping for joy. However, don’t deposit funds that you don’t know are legit — especially if you didn’t apply for any scholarships. You could end up responsible for massive overdraft fees or even account closure. 

Scam Alert #3: The Guarantee

Remember the cliché, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?” This axiom applies when it comes to companies that “guarantee” they’ll get you a scholarship if you send them a nominal — or sometimes hefty — fee. 

You earn scholarships based upon your merits, be they academic, athletic, artistic, or altruistic. Therefore, no company can guarantee your approval — remember this scholarship scam red flag. 

Scam Alert #4: For a Nominal Fee 

Some scammers don’t promise you anything outside of a sweepstakes entry if you send them a small fee. While they may advertise impressive chances of winning, take a hard pass on this scholarship scam. 

Think about it — unscrupulous individuals can send out emails to hundreds of thousands of people. Even if only a few thousand responds, for $35 a pop, the responsible party could give out one $500 scholarship and pocket the rest. 

Scam Alert #5: Going Away Soon 

Yes, scholarship applications do have deadlines. However, they will typically appear somewhere in the official FAQs — not as a bold headline compelling you to act now “or else.” 

Scholarship scams of this nature often combine the pressure to act quickly with a guarantee of “locking in” your cash. All you need to do to reserve your financial aid is to provide a credit or debit card number and a small handling fee. When you provide this information, scammers sell your data to other criminals while pocketing the penny cash. It’s a win-win for them, but your college money never arrives. 

Scam Alert #6: We’ll Do the Dirty Work 

Criminals know that people get wise to more common scams. They do their best to make offers seem legitimate. What’s more tedious than filling out scholarship applications? Wouldn’t you welcome paid assistance?

Some scammers contact you via text, call, or email, promising to do all the dirty work for you. They often throw in a guarantee that if you buy their “assistance program,” you’ll improve your chances at coveted financial aid. Remember, institutions award scholarships based on your merits — it doesn’t matter who you have helping you fill out the paperwork. 

Scam Alert #7: Attend Our Free Workshop

If you’re applying for financial aid, you probably haven’t sat through many timeshare sales pitches yet. However, you can get a taste of the high-pressure tactics they use if you fall for one of the many “attend our free workshop” scholarship scams. 

These free meetings are nothing more than an attempt to get you in a controlled environment where they can use their most potent snake oil in person. Even if you think you have steel resolve, why waste your precious time? Please pass on this scholarship scam. 

Key Phrases to Watch for 

When you’re on the lookout for scholarship scams, watch for these phrases. Any or all of them should raise red flag alerts: 

  • “All” or “everyone:” It bears repeating one more time — schools award scholarships based on merit. Any organization that promises you that everyone will receive funds is lying. Full stop. 
  • Respond immediately: Schools realize it takes time to fill out your scholarship application thoughtfully and carefully. They won’t insist you respond immediately or forfeit your chances — they’ll set reasonable deadlines. 
  • Results guaranteed: No one can guarantee you will win a scholarship. Beware of programs that make grandiose and unsubstantiated promises. 

Learn How to Spot Common Scholarship Scams

Once you know how to spot these frequently used scholarship scams, you can save yourself considerable heartache. More importantly, you’ll safeguard your financial data and cold, hard cash. 

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