Scholarship scams tend to have a particular set of characteristics. These characteristics can be used to identify possible scams. Some of the warning signs are listed below:
- Application fees: Beware of any "scholarship" requiring an application fee, even an innocuously low one like $10 or $20. Most legitimate scholarship sponsors do not require an application fee.
- Additional fees: If you must pay money to get information about an award, apply for the award, or receive an award, it might be a scam. Beware of 900 number telephone services, which charge you a fee of several dollars a minute for the call.
- Guaranteed winnings: No legitimate scholarship sponsor will guarantee that you will win the award. Also be wary of guarantees that you'll receive a minimum amount of financial aid, usually such guarantees count your federal student aid program and private student loan program for which most people are eligible.
- Unsolicited opportunities: Most scholarship sponsors will only contact you in response to your inquiry. If you've never heard of the organization before, it is probably a scam.
- High success rates: Overstated claims of effectiveness are a good tip-off to a scam. For example, less than 1% of users of scholarships search services actually win an award. If the service claims a 96% success rate, they are probably counting the number of clients who were successfully matched to awards in their database, not the number of clients who received money. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
There are many legitimate scholarship search services that charge students a fee to compare the student's profile against a database of scholarships. It is, however, very difficult to distinguish between legitimate services and scam imitators, because the services are often small operations that pay fees to search one of the handful of national databases. In any event, charging more than $50 to search a database is excessive, especially since you can search the fastWEB, SRN Express, Salliemae, and College Board databases for free.
Scholarship Scams: Helpful Links
Scam Alert Intro: Don't Get Scammed On Your Way To College
Scam Warning Signs: Warning Signs
What To Do: What To Do When You Think A Scholarship Is A Scam