When it comes to avoiding a scholarship scam or financial aid scam is that there really are some obscure and even bizarre scholarships out there. There’s a scholarship for being left-handed, one for being above average in height or below average in height, one for being a redhead, and so much more. That means it’s easy to accidentally fall into a trap of applying for a scholarship from a company or organization that you’ve never heard of.
Fortunately, avoiding a scholarship scam only takes a little bit of attention and precaution.
Stick to reputable scholarship links
Many colleges and high schools will link to safe, trustworthy sources of financial aid on their websites. Start with your school’s site or your guidance counselor to find these and other sources.
Watch out for emailed offers
Once you begin engaging in activities that can be linked to college life—such as signing up for updates, filling out online applications, even searching for housing or shopping for dorm room essentials—that can trigger scammers who are looking for victims. When your email inbox begins filling up with scholarship offers and even “congratulations, you’ve been awarded a grant!” messages, it can be tempting to open them and click the link but you don’t want to do that. Opening the email and finding out if it’s legitimate is fine, but clicking a link or downloading an application can be dangerous if the sender isn’t genuine and can lead to a malicious virus or another compromise of your data.
There’s no such thing as free money
It might sound like the opposite of a scholarship search—since scholarships are, by nature, free college money—but no one will hunt you down to give you money. Scholarships are funded by many different sources, and they are to reward hard-working students with the means to afford their tuition. No one sends out emails begging students to take the money, though. Many scholarships involve a rigorous selection process, so any claims that something is free or already yours should be a red flag.
You can’t win if you don’t play
Another important truth about scholarships is you cannot receive one if you don’t apply for it. That means you’ll never receive a scholarship that you didn’t submit your application for. If you are contacted by email, text, social media message, or some other way and told you’ve won a scholarship, make sure it’s one you applied for before you engage with the message. Furthermore, don’t fall for any hidden “fees” like paying $40 to process your new $400 scholarship; you never have to pay money to receive money.
Protect your data
With very few exceptions, you should not have to submit your Social Security number in order to apply for a scholarship. The exception may be scholarships that are awarded directly by your university (and even then, they should already have that information) or government grants and aid. A club, team, community organization, or other company should not need it, so don’t turn it over without investigating why it’s necessary.
It’s hard to believe that someone would stoop so low as to steal from a young college hopeful with a scholarship scam, but it’s true. Safeguard your identifying information and be very careful of what information you share.