Scholarships have become an excellent way for students to ease the financial burden of their education. However, in the age of technological advancement and the desperate need for students to secure scholarships, some dishonest individuals and organizations prey on prospective applicants through scholarship scams.
These scams waste the valuable time of applicants. Beyond that waste of time, these scams can also cause financial loss and harm to unsuspecting individuals.
In this article, we seek to shed some light on the common characteristics of scholarship scams. We also, through this article, provide valuable tips on protecting oneself from fraudulent offers while offering guidance on dealing with scams. Finally, we discuss resources for verifying the legitimacy of scholarships.
Common Characteristics of Scholarship Scams:
- Application Fees: Scholarships are supposed to help students and relieve their financial burden, so why would a legitimate scholarship charge? Typically, legitimate scholarship programs do not require applicants to pay any fees during the application process. There are, however, some scam programs that may demand payment upfront or request personal banking information. This is a clear red flag. Applicants are advised to be cautious when asked for any form of payment or sensitive information by the scholarship provider.
- Guaranteed Awards: No scholarship can guarantee that it will support all applicants. If you come across any scholarship, that claims everyone will receive an award simply by applying, it is likely a scam. Scholarships are highly competitive. Additionally, scholarships are awarded based on merit, qualifications, and sometimes financial need, so it cannot be possible that every single applicant would be awarded one.
- Unsolicited Offers: All legitimate scholarship schemes are advertised publicly. Applicants can seek them out rather easily. If you receive an unexpected email, text message, or phone call about a scholarship scheme you know very well but did not apply for, you have to approach it with extreme caution. Scammers often rely on unsolicited offers to target unsuspecting individuals.
- High-Pressure Tactics: Scammers who hide under the guise of giving scholarships rely on high-pressure tactics to rush students into making impulsive decisions. These scammers may say that there is limited availability or that there is an impending deadline to create a sense of urgency. Applicants are encouraged to always take the time to research and verify the legitimacy of any scholarship before committing.
Protecting Yourself from Fraudulent Offers:
- Research Extensively: Applicants must research any scholarship opportunity thoroughly and be convinced it is legitimate before applying or providing personal information. Applicants can look for official websites, and contact information. You will also be able to find and read reviews or testimonials from previous recipients. Every single legitimate scholarship scheme is supported by reputable organizations, educational institutions, or philanthropic foundations. Look out for these organisations.
- Verify the Organization: Applicants must check the legitimacy of the scholarship provider. Applicants can do this by verifying the registration of the scholarship schemes with relevant authorities. In this technological age, if an organization lacks transparency or cannot be verified, it’s best to avoid engaging with them.
- Trust Your Gut: Often, if something feels off or too good to be true, it probably is. Applicants must learn to trust their instincts and exercise caution when dealing with unfamiliar scholarship opportunities. If any of the steps for the application or anything else seems suspicious, take a step back and consult someone you trust.
- Use Official Channels: Applicants should only use official channels. These would include college websites, government scholarship databases, or reputable scholarship search engines when exploring scholarship opportunities. These platforms have proper vetting processes in place to ensure the legitimacy of the scholarships they list. This would mean that scholarships on these platforms have already been verified to be legitimate.
What to Do if You Encounter a Scam:
- Cease Communication: Once, as an applicant, you realize you are dealing with a scholarship scam, what you must do is it immediately cease all communication with the fraudulent party. Do not engage further or provide any additional personal information. In cases where it is possible to remove all information already provided, do so.
- Report the Scam: All countries across the globe have agencies that deal with fraud. Applicants must immediately report the scam to relevant authorities. This can include local law enforcement agencies. File a complaint and provide all the information about the nature of the scam and any evidence you may have.
- Warn Others: It is important that once applicants realise that a certain scholarship scheme is fraudulent, they inform their friends, classmates, and educators. This would prevent others from falling victim to the same scheme.
Resources for Verifying Scholarship Legitimacy:
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Have you heard of the FTC? Well, the FTC offers consumer protection resources. It also accepts complaints related to scholarship scams. Their website provides very good information on recognizing and reporting scams.
- Better Business Bureau (BBB): The BBB maintains a database of registered organizations and allows users to search for complaints or reviews. Applicants are encouraged to use it to research the legitimacy of scholarship providers.
- Financial Aid Offices: Consult your school’s financial aid office for guidance on scholarship opportunities. These offices have been set up by the various schools to advise students on reputable sources of scholarships, whether institutional or local, and to help verify the legitimacy of external programs.
- Scholarship Search Engines: Utilize legitimate scholarship search engines such as Fastweb, Scholarships.com, or CollegeBoard’s scholarship search tool.
Scholarship scams can be a serious threat to students seeking financial assistance for their education. Applicants must be vigilant.