Avoiding scholarship scams

Paying for education is a serious investment, and scholarships can make a huge difference in cutting your debts to a minimum while you study.  Unfortunately, unscrupulous people know that and every year thousands of young people and their families are duped by “scholarship scams”. This can lead you to not only waste precious time, but also lose money instead of save it.

 Here are some ways to spot the scammers and avoid heartbreak.  The main point to remember, even though it’s a cliche, is “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t”!


You are asked to pay a fee

If you are asked to pay money for a scholarship this is almost certainly a scam. Scholarships are designed to help relieve financial pressure, not take money from you. Do not send money to any organization claiming to offer scholarships which charge “administration” or other fees.  Some companies may actually award one small scholarship, funded by hundreds of peoples’ “admin fees” and pocket a large profit themselves, in a lottery style scheme. Similarly, you should not be asked for bank or credit card information in order to “secure” an award - scholarships are usually paid by cheque, or directly to the academic institution you are attending. They should not need your financial details.


There’s no phone number or address (PO box doesn’t count)

Check their website carefully and google around to find proper contact details for the organization. A scammer will avoid displaying phone numbers and a proper address.


Past winners

If this is a real opportunity, it is likely that other students have benefitted from the organization or this particular award. Research the organization and search for previous recipients of scholarships to help you assess the validity of the offer.


No criteria/open to anyone

The point of scholarships is to be selective, to help a particular kind of student and award according to certain criteria, whether it be grades in a specific subject, athletic achievement or family circumstances and financial background.  If organizations gave out scholarships to everyone they would soon run out of money! If you are offered a “guaranteed” award without having to do any work, this is probably not bona fide.  A popular message from scammers is “we will do all the work”, “just fill in your details and we will do the rest”.  You are probably going to supply these people with a lot of personal information and never hear from them again.


You need to attend a seminar in order to “qualify”

If you are told that in order to be considered for a scholarship you need to attend an event either in person or online, then most likely when you get there the organizers will try to sell you expensive educational consultancy services or insurance.  


Official name - check , it might be fake

Suspect companies often use words like “National” or “Foundation”, so just because they sound official, check them out.


Winning something you didn’t apply for

You know this already, but if someone contacts you online or by phone out of the blue to tell you you have won a scholarship that you have never heard of, it’s fake.  Don’t engage.


They say you don’t have to do anything

Nothing is for free. Scholarships are competitive, often with hundreds of applicants for one space. Apart from a long application form you often have to submit tests or essays and go through a selection process of some kind. Any company who promises you an award without any effort on your part, is probably lying.


Spelling errors

As with scams of any kind, a telltale sign is bad writing, grammar and spelling errors on their literature. A bona fide organization would not make those kinds of mistakes.


You can’t get this information anywhere else

Scholarship awarders want to give the money away, they want to find the right person for it - why would they hide it away?  If you see a scholarship you would like to apply for, see if it is advertised anywhere else, go to the source of the grantor and research them properly before investing time in an application.


Says “guaranteed”

How could you be guaranteed a scholarship if they don’t know anything about you? If any company or organization claims they can “guarantee” you a scholarship, there is probably something fishy going on. Look elsewhere. Check with your school on any opportunities that you find.