Unfortunately, as you look for college scholarships to help fund your education and/or alleviate some of your student debts, you’re probably going to run into some scholarship scams. These will look like legitimate scholarship search sites and/or institutions that fund scholarships, but they’re actually just ploys to get you to give up personal information so that they can steal your identity.
Falling for a scholarship scam can be devastating. You start your scholarship search because you were afraid that you couldn’t otherwise afford to go to college, and, seemingly the minute you turn around, someone has your credit card information, social security number, and/or other private information and is using it to rack up serious bills in your name. Suddenly you’re in a lot more financial trouble than you were before, all because you wanted to search for college funding opportunities.
Fortunately, you can avoid this scenario if you know what to look for. Beware of these scholarship scams, and always do your research to find out if an organization or website is legitimate before giving them any information at all.
Be Careful of These Signs of Scam
First of all, if you see any of the following things associated with a website or organization that claims to be a scholarship foundation or search site, click away immediately. In fact, if you are certain that a site or organization is fraudulent, don’t hesitate to report it to the US Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General. This will help prevent future fraudulent activity and keep other students from getting scammed.
According to US News, these are the top 9 signs that you’re dealing with a scholarship scam:
- Application Fees – Serious scholarship providers do not charge students to apply for their funding opportunities. Don’t fall for that “minimal processing fee”. Applications for scholarships should not cost you.
- No Requirements for Eligibility – Legitimate scholarships and grants will have financial, demographic, and/or merit based requirements that applicants must meet. You wouldn’t want to go through a whole sea of unqualified candidates to give away your money, and neither do the organizations giving away scholarship funds.
- Lack of Contact Info – If they don’t have a phone number and/or mailing address, they are probably not a real organization.
- No Documentation of Past Winners – Can you find others who’ve won this scholarship in a Google search? If not, it’s because no one has ever actually won this scholarship scam.
- Requests for Private and/or Financial Information – Do not give them your information! This is definitely a scam.
- Fake Non-Profits or “Federal” Institutions – If the name sounds legitimate but you can’t find any information on the organization outside of their website, they are most likely scammers.
- “Congratulations! You’ve Won a Scholarship You Didn’t Apply For!” – If you get an email like this, don’t open it. Mark it as spam, report it, and delete it.
- Search Fees and “Secret” Information – All of the people who work for legitimate scholarship search engines know that the information they’re providing you is accessible to anyone. They’re providing you with an easy way to search it, but they know it’s not secret or privileged. If the site claims this and/or charges you to search, don’t buy in.
- “We’ll Do All the Work for You!” – Applying for scholarships takes work, and you really have to do it yourself. Any site that claims to do the work for you is just trying to get you to give them your information so that they can steal your identity.
In addition to these, you should also beware of any scam that guarantees scholarship money. These will usually require you to pay a fee, and they’ll often have a “money-back guarantee” if you don’t receive scholarship funds. No scholarship is ever guaranteed, and no search site, foundation, or organization can promise you this in good faith. If you see this kind of “guarantee”, report them immediately.
If You Suspect a Scholarship Scam
If you aren’t convinced that a scholarship provider or search site is legitimate, you can do a number of things to protect yourself. If you haven’t already entered any information into the site, at the very least, go ahead and click away. Then, just to be safe, empty your cookies folder on your computer and perform a quick security scan to ensure that you haven’t picked up any malware.
Beyond this, you should also take the information you have on this suspected scholarship scam to your college’s financial aid office and to your high school counselor (if you’re still in high school). This way they can, at the very least, warn other students to avoid this particular scam and potentially pursue further action against them.
If you believe that you’ve fallen for a scam and have given out your information, you can still take some steps to protect yourself, as well. Call your bank and/or credit card companies and have them issue you new credit and/or debit cards with new numbers. If the scholarship scammer claimed to a legitimate business or associated with the government, you should also report them to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
If you’ve accidentally given a scholarship scam more information than just your card number(s), such as your social security number, home address, etc., follow the FTC’s instructions for what to do if you suspect identity theft. These include immediate actions and long-term fraud alerts that will help protect you against future use of your information.
Go to Trusted Scholarship Search Sites
Finally, you can avoid scholarship scams by doing your searches on trusted sites with good reputations. The best sites to find the most comprehensive lists of legitimate scholarships are:
There are others out there, as well, but be wary when searching for and through them. Use the scam list above as a litmus test for whether a site can be proven to be legitimate or whether it’s most likely a scam.
Search and Apply for Scholarships on ScholarshipChart.com
ScholarshipChart.com helps students and parents search and apply for scholarships, grants, awards and other financial aid options to help pay for college. Whether you are a high school senior starting college or a single mom going back to school, you can find money for college through ScholarshipChart.com.