How to Avoid Scholarship Scams

Recognizing common scholarship scams to keep personal information safe.

As education costs continue to rise, students are using every possible source to receive money for their academic achievements and financial need. Scholarships can be awarded through a specific school, a state or federal program, and some private entities. However, there are some less reputable sources for scholarships that may seem too good to be true. With scholarship guarantees and little to no work required, scammers are drawing in students to give up personal information in hopes of getting money for school.

Both students and parents should be informed about how to recognize scholarship scams and best prepare to avoid them. Keeping personal information secure is the number one priority when avoiding a scam.


Scholarship scams come in several forms. From signing up for e-mail lists to a simple pop-up, these kinds of scams can do more than just take personal information. Most, if not all, scholarships are applied for online. Sites can not only take banking information and addresses, but they can also send viruses through a website or pop-up. Some common scams include:

  • “You’ve been selected!”: If a student hasn’t applied for a scholarship, chances are that unsolicited offers are always a scam. They may be asked to accept the award or pay a processing fee using a credit card. Pop-ups and flashy advertisements that seem to appear throughout the browser are most definitely scams and should not be clicked because they may contain a virus.
  • Application fees: Other than postage, students should not have to pay to apply for a scholarships no matter how large the reward is. Legitimate foundations rarely charge applicants, but if they do the fee is never more than a few dollars.
  • Guaranteed scholarships: No foundation can guarantee scholarships. Even if a student still decides to apply, it may end up that receiving the scholarship will be under extreme circumstances that can be both unrealistic and dangerous.
  • Rewards without an entry: There is no scholarship that doesn’t require a little work to apply. If a website simply asks a student to enter their name, address, and phone number without some type of essay or project, it is most likely a scam. Scholarships are extremely competitive that take into account several things such as academic merit. If the student didn’t work hard to receive this scholarship, it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
  • Sweeping claims: Websites and companies will put just about anything on their site to attract students to give up information. Things like, “To hold this scholarship space, please insert a credit card number” or “Your social security number is required to continue” should be avoided.


With so many ways to steal personal information, there are certain steps that students and their parents can take to avoid scams. Investigating companies and asking questions will help to keep information safe, as well as avoid scams and viruses.

Never give out personal information including bank accounts (checking, savings, etc.), social security numbers or anything else that organizations can use to find out more about you. Some companies put in more work that others to seem legitimate. No chance at a scholarship is worth identity theft.

If an organization is legitimate and safe, information such as the establishments address and telephone number should be easily accessible. If a person cannot verify the phone number by calling or searching the address, the organization may be set up for scams. Students should beware of P.O. boxes; they are the number one home of fraudulent organizations.

While students can take steps to avoid scams, not everyone will be able to recognize that they’ve been scammed until after the fact. Anyone can contact consumer-protection and government organizations to find out whether a company is under investigation or if they have caused any other problems. It’s important to keep in mind that just because no complaints have been filed or investigations are inactive, doesn’t mean that a company isn’t fraudulent. Students can contact:

  • The Better Business Bureau (BBB)
  • Their state attorney general’s office
  • The National Consumer League’s Fraud Center

Anything regarding scholarships should be received in writing. This goes for cancellation and refund policies, or anything else requiring a change in status. Receiving information in print can allow for anyone to read the fine print that could contain important guidelines to accepting, maintaining, and rejecting a scholarship.