how to avoid scholarship scams

Scholarship scams continue to plague search engines, social media sites, and ad spaces. Predatory companies and scheming individuals continue to target unknowing individuals eager to look for opportunities. 

Studying an undergraduate or taking up further studies can be expensive, especially for international students who have to deal with overseas fees— and scammers take advantage of that.

These fraudulent scholarships can take many forms, and sometimes, they can fool even the most careful and tech-savvy people.

Scholarships for Africans has compiled what to look out for in scholarship scams and how you can avoid them in the future.

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What are the Characteristics of a Scholarship Scam?

Scholarship scams often promise to provide financial aid. In exchange, however, these schemes require aspiring scholars to pay money.

The fraudulence starts with a social media post, email, or a letter in the mail. It might look like a personalized invitation towards an individual, stating that they have been selected for a particular scholarship or financial aid package.

Sometimes, the invitations contain contact numbers, an address, or event details. Once targets follow up through calls or show up at an event, scammers usually make high-pressure sales pitches.

Through these tactics, they pressure people into paying for their services immediately — or risk losing out on these “special” scholarships or financial aid packages.

Once people have signed up for their services and paid upfront, frauds will promise to get in touch for updates. However, they can no longer be reached when contacted.

While most scams involve money laundering, others also include identity theft. Scammers can use their victims’ personal information and/or financial details to commit other frauds.

Overall, scholarship scams can damage one’s finances and good name.  

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Common Types of Scams

The best way to guard yourself against a scholarship scam is to know its common forms and how they work.

Below are some schemes to watch out for:

Cash upfront scholarship scams

The scheme involves pressuring an aspiring scholar into paying an organization first to get a scholarship. This can be in the form of a redemption fee or “taxes” prior to being able to claim a scholarship. Afterward, the victim will get messages about complications regarding the loan or find that communications have stopped altogether.

Advance fee loan schemes

Fake educational loans usually bait students by presenting uncharacteristically low-interest lends. On the downside, one will have to pay a fee before they can avail of the loan. In the end, the loan will never be approved and by then, the scammers have already taken the victim’s money and ran.

As a point of reference, please take note that most real educational loans do not collect fees prior to giving a loan. These are typically deducted from the disbursement checks that the borrowers receive. If the loan has been issued by an unrecognized bank or lender and there is no available information on their loans prior to this application season, then it is most likely a scam.

Seminar scholarship scams

This scam invites people to free seminars that will allegedly help you in your search for financial aid.

In truth, the events are platforms to sell insurance and other investment products. To target students, they will have student loans (with hidden high-interest rates) or scholarship matching services that come with a fee.

Guaranteed Scholarship Search Services

There are multiple scholarship database websites such as Scholarships for Africans, whose true goal is to help students search for scholarships. However, in recent years, scammers have taken to the Internet and created similar databases. The only difference is that the fraudulent scholarship search websites also promise to handle the paperwork involved with scholarship applications.

Furthermore, they entice students into paying them a processing fee by assuring them of a secured scholarship. Scams like this may also claim to have programs for additional financial aid eligibility.

Scholarships that never materialize

Some scams occur during the sign-up period. Victims might be asked to pay a processing fee when sending in an application. It may just be a small fee that the scholarship says is for weeding out non-serious applicants.

Most people, upon never hearing back from the fraudulent scholarship organization, assume that they didn’t get the scholarship and just write off the fee.

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How to Avoid Falling for Schemes

Understanding how scholarship scams work is an essential step in avoiding them. This will also motivate aspiring scholars to be more careful in decision-making.

So, how can one decide if the scholarship they are pursuing is legitimate? Here are a few ways to spot fraudulent offers:

Cross reference the scholarship with accredited sites

The credibility of a scholarship can be confirmed online through accredited scholarship search websites. While some scholarships are not backed by an official organization, they can still be searched online. It is good practice to look for evidence of past successful scholarship cycles and other related information.

Check out scholarships approved by universities

Universities frequently update their students on available scholarships—especially at the end of a school term. These usually come from organizations and places that the university has had experience with previously or they’re from organizations that are reputable. Some examples of the most popular scholarships to date include The Gates Scholarship in the US and the Chevening Scholarships in the UK.  

Students may receive emails about these scholarships directly from their faculty, or they may find announcements on their university’s website.

Ask help from financial aid offices and the guidance counselor

School resources can be extremely helpful since they have prior experience with scholarship organizations. It will be easier for them to recognize scholarships scams since they have more frames of reference based on traditional and legitimate scholarships they have dealt with in the past.

Do not give out personal information

Giving away credit card information and banking details can be a risk, especially if the scholarship website is not entirely secure. On the other hand, giving away contact details can also enable frauds to sell numbers to spam call lists.

In more serious cases where a victim has released enough personal information, scammers can commit identity theft. Therefore, people should be more careful about the type of information they willingly give out.

In their search for help with rising education costs, students and parents can be easy marks for scholarship scams. By keeping students and families informed and updated, people can help them tell a genuine scholarship opportunity from a scam.

Legitimate scholarship information is available online. Start your journey with us at Scholarships for Africans.

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Scholarships for Africans is a premier scholarship information blog committed to bringing more opportunities for Africans globally. They are part of the African Scholar Initiative, powered by Scholarship Hippo.

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