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Scam alert: Avoiding getting conned by too-good-to-be-true scholarships

scholarship scam
Scholarships allow students who are not financially able to further their studies and succeed. Source: Jon Cherry / AFP

University doesn’t come cheap, especially for international students looking to study abroad. But scholarship scams are — all they need is a phone to run a dishonest scheme.

International students pay between US$11,415) and going up to US$43,378 in tuition fees for a UK degree. Their friends in the US spend an average of US$99,417 over the course of their American degrees.

Luckily, financial aid exists, especially scholarships. Some cover rent, tuition, textbooks, laptops, to name a few. Others are generous enough that an international student need not pay anything.

Scammers understand this big appeal of a free degree abroad — with plenty of tricks to get you to give them your money. They take advantage of scholarship candidates by trying to steal money, banking information, personal information, and other important details.

Some charge a fee for scholarships and call them application fees, payment fees, or processing fees. Some may even send a check for more than the scholarship amount and ask the student to return the difference. By the time the student discovers that this is fake, the criminals behind these scholarship scams have already pocketed their money. 

There are seemingly endless ways to cheat you out of you and your parents’ hard-earned money. Don’t fall for these scholarship scams — to protect yourself, here are five tips to follow closely:

scholarship scams

Watch out for scholarship scams that require you to send money upfront, pay an application fee, or guarantee that you will win a scholarship. Source: Fethi Belaid / AFP

Research unsolicited contacts

One of the most common scholarship scams is phishing scams. This is when an unsolicited company or organisation calls a student claiming to offer a scholarship. Students who are desperate to pay their expensive tuition fees fall for this and end up giving away personal information or money. 

When applying for a scholarship, most companies or organisations offering legitimate scholarships will not contact you first. To avoid being a victim of a phishing scam, research an organisation before applying or giving up any information.

If an email looks suspicious, don’t open any attachments and delete or report any companies that send out these emails. 

Guaranteed scholarships

Never trust an organisation or company that guarantees you a scholarship — if you apply with them. Most of the time, they will ask for a fee and offer a money-back guarantee, but you will never get the scholarship or receive your money back. 

When applying for scholarships, ask yourself, “Is it too good to be true?”. Chances are, if a scholarship sounds like it is a dream, it usually is. A little hint to remember is that legitimate services will not guarantee the opportunity of receiving a scholarship.

Watch out for extra payment

Sound the alarm bells as soon as they ask for any payment in exchange for a grant or scholarship. 

You should never have to submit money to an organisation in order to receive a scholarship. Therefore, never pay an application fee or send money with your scholarship application.

Most likely, these organisations will just keep the money for themselves, and you won’t hear from them again.

Some may offer an advance-fee loan, where you are given the option to apply for a low-interest college loan, but you must first pay a charge in order to be eligible.

Unfortunately, the loan that was promised never materialises after you pay the money.

Actual student loans will subtract the fees from the disbursement check. When you submit the application, there is never a charge upfront. If a bank did not issue the loan, it is definitely a hoax.

scholarship scams

Scholarships and loans often give students a path towards an international education. Source: Maddie Meyer / AFP

Be wary of a sense of urgency

Even though some scholarships have deadlines, it’s unlikely that you would be notified a few hours or days in advance. Scammers carry out this technique of invoking a sense of urgency to catch you off guard.

Scammers may pose as government representatives and use threats and intimidation to make false claims.

They can claim to know your immigration status or suggest you submit a visa application with mistakes. If you don’t pay a fine, they could also threaten to have you arrested or deported.

They frequently demand money transfers through wire transfers, prepaid credit cards, gift cards, or e-Transfers. The people behind scholarship scams will attempt to intimidate you into paying right away by using threatening or aggressive language.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when faced with this situation: 

  • Government representatives will never threaten you with deportation or arrest over the phone or use threatening language.
  • Government representatives will never urge you to pay with a wire transfer, prepaid gift card, or cryptocurrency.
  • Most trustworthy authorities won’t require that you react to demands immediately; instead, they’ll give you plenty of time to do so.

Don’t hand over personal or banking information

Most students think that when applying for a scholarship, they must hand over really personal information. As a result, many end up sharing their social security number or bank information. 

Scammers usually ask for information like passport numbers, social security numbers, credit card details and bank account information.

This puts you at risk for identity theft and gives scammers access to your private finances, medical records and any other important documents. 

While you will have to share some basic information, it is always important to vet the organisation before sending over anything, this includes basic information like your name, address and phone number.