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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.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Students around the country are heading back to school in a matter of weeks—if they haven’t started already, that is—so there’s no better time to prepare for scams and fraud. Crimes that target the identities of young people have risen steadily in recent years, and there’s no better victim than a student with a “clean slate” credit report and quick access to spending power.

There are a few ways that scammers can target young people’s identities, and unfortunately, a lot of the avenues for this crime go hand-in-hand with heading off to college. The need for a new credit card, the requirement to move into a new place and activate utilities, even the temporary halt on your mail while you settle in at school can all lead to scams if you don’t know what can be a threat.

Here are just a few of the things that young adults need to protect themselves against as they head into another school year

Ah, the Credit Cards!

As recently as a few years ago, you couldn’t walk across a college quad without being inundated with credit card offers. These sideshow carnival hawkers would call out to students and offer everything from free t-shirts to frisbees to pizzas to even the chance to win high-end electronics. New legislation about what financial institutions can do to lure young people into applying for outrageously high-interest credit cards has helped, but it didn’t solve all the problems.

Remember, when you fill out an application for a new credit card, you’re handing over your entire identity to someone who stuck a piece of paper and a free pen in your face. But do you really need a credit card with a 29 percent interest rate? And do you really trust the hourly wage or contract employee who’s going to take your application? If you can’t honestly answer positively, skip the card. Head back to your room and do some homework online for the best credit card, if you even need a card, that is.

Employment Scams

College students love earning extra money. If the job fits around their course and study schedules it might be hard to resist. Unfortunately, that’s exactly how scammers steal identities from unsuspecting students. The ability to make thousands of dollars a month (or even per week, according to some ads) while still having time for class, studying and socializing is certainly enticing…and scammers know it.

Protect yourself by being a little skeptical. There isn’t a job that will pay you a lot of money for doing nothing or for setting your own hours and working in your pajamas. Also remember that a legitimate job won’t require a processing fee, an upfront out-of-pocket cost or needs all of your identifying information in order to apply.

Moving Scams

You wouldn’t think college students have all that much stuff to move, but remember, you’re creating a whole new residence. As such, there are a lot of moving scams online that promise to store or transport your goods. The only catch is you have to pay upfront for the service, and then you have to cross your fingers and hope they actually show up to help.

Instead, only deal with reputable companies in your vicinity that you can see face-to-face. If you’re moving so far that you can’t meet them in person—such as moving across the country to go to school—try to find an escrow service that will hold your payment until the job is completed and both parties are satisfied.

Financial Aid Scams

There will never be a point in which a college student couldn’t use a little free money for tuition, books, housing or meals. Scammers are actually counting on this need in order to target you with financial aid scams.

Scholarships, grants, and low-interest loans certainly exist and make college possible for a lot of students, but for every genuine opportunity, there’s a scam waiting to snare you instead. Never give your information to a website or online ad that you haven’t verified, and run away if you’re ever told to pay a “processing” or application fee. Even better, check with your student financial aid office for reputable sources of funding for school.

There are plenty of things about college life that can trip you up, but falling victim to scams and frauds shouldn’t be part of it. Just use your head and trust your instincts, but when in doubt, reach out to your school, your family or a faculty advisor for information before you act.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.