Scholarship Scams: Watch for Red Flags

Unfortunately, scholarship scammers are out there. Here is what you need to look out for.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

August 04, 2021

Scholarship Scams: Watch for Red Flags
The best rule of thumb to follow? If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Students put a lot of their hopes into getting scholarships to help cover the cost of college. With that, students will apply to any opportunity in order to secure the funding they need. Unfortunately, there are those out there who would take advantage of students in this most vulnerable time. As high school, college, and graduate students go through the process of applying for scholarships, they need to be aware of potential scams. In general, many college scholarships are not regulated, which allows scammers to get away with contacting you with illegitimate offers. You may be worried or anxious in light of this information, but scholarship scams are actually very simple to spot. There are also precautions you can take to protect yourself. Your first is to utilize a scholarship search database like Fastweb. At Fastweb, our Research Team vets all of the scholarships available on the site and does not charge anything for its services.
The second is this piece of advice: if it feels too good to be true, it probably is! Here are some “offers” or “opportunities” that may entice you to apply. If you see the following red flags, stop the application process and walk away.
  1. Guarantees

    If you receive some type of guarantee that you will win scholarship money, it is a scam. Nobody representing a legitimate award opportunity will be able to guarantee that you’ll win. In the end, this scam artist likely wants personal information from you.
  2. Unsolicited Scholarship Offers

    If you have a cell phone or an email address, you have very likely experienced spam content. As a student, you may get offers via phone, mail, or email, offering you a scholarship. If you did not request information from that provider, be very careful. Keep in mind that scholarships are awarded through an application process. They are not just given out randomly to students.
  3. Fees

    Applying for legitimate scholarship opportunities is always FREE. The application may cost you time and effort, but it should never cost you money. Even if you find an application that states it is just $5 to apply, do not submit an application. In this scenario, it is very likely that the scammer is trying to get bank account or credit card information from you.
  4. Limited Time Offers

    Legitimate scholarships have deadlines and can be found within the application guidelines. If you hear from a “provider” that their scholarship offer is only available for a limited time, it’s a scam.
    Real scholarship providers do not need to pressure students to apply for their awards. They also want to ensure that applicants have ample time to complete their applications and essays. If you are feeling pressured to apply for an opportunity because you’ve been told it’s a “limited time offer,” do not apply.
  5. Gathering Very Personal Information

    During the application process, scholarship providers should not be asking for private information, like your bank account, credit card info, or social security number. Applications will very likely ask for your contact info, like your email address or phone number. They may also ask for your street address as well as the school you plan to attend. If you do win a scholarship, it’s likely they will ask for further information from you, specifically as it relates to sending your prize money.
  6. Eligibility

    Every scholarship opportunity will have eligibility requirements. The scholarship may be open to certain grade levels, or you must be a student currently or about to enroll in an accredited institution. If the eligibility requirements seem open-ended, and literally anyone is able to apply regardless of their student status, it should raise a red flag. It may be helpful, as well, to see if their website or award opportunity lists any previous winners. If the “testimonials” seem unnatural and contrived, it’s definitely a scam.
  7. Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

    Scholarship providers will always provide contact information in the event that you have questions or concerns. Conversely, scammers will create fake websites claiming to be legitimate scholarships; however, their site will be void of any contact info. If you do come across a scholarship that is questionable, check their site for an address or phone number. Do a quick Google search to see if the address checks out, and call the number to see who – if anyone – answers.
  8. Is It Too Good to Be True?

    The best rule of thumb to follow? Again, if it seems too good to be true, it likely is! There are millions of award opportunities to apply to; don’t get hung up on thinking a scholarship scam was “the one.” There are also several additional reputable online resources that list scholarship scam guidelines and information. Utilize them to familiarize yourself with the warning signs so that you don’t fall prey to student scams.
Federal Trade Commission Scam Guidelines
Federal Student Aid: Avoiding Scams
FinAid’s Scholarship Scam Signs

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