How to Avoid Scholarship and “Conference” Scams

Don’t fall for a scholarship, membership or “conference” scam. If you receive something in the mail offering you a scholarship, a membership, or if something says you’ve been chosen to attend a seminar or program, make sure you double check its validity. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Scam organizations may get your name from PSAT or SAT contact information that was shared, or from other education-oriented companies you may have shared information with.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

Look up the organization offering the scholarship.

Scams often misuse the names of legitimate government and nonprofit organizations. They may also be using words like “national,” “federal,” “foundation,” or “administration.” Check out the site and if there is no phone number or the return address is a PO Box, this is cause to be wary. But keep in mind, an “.org” website does not make a scholarship automatically legitimate. 

Send no money.

If you receive unsolicited mail telling you you’ve won a scholarship, but you need to send money to claim it, throw the letter away. Another scam sends a check made out to you. In order to cash the check, they say you need to send them money. Don’t send them any money—you won’t see any money from them.  Don’t even send them $1.

Don’t pay for what you can get free.

Some scholarship-matching services claim they will help match you with scholarships—for a fee. Before you sign on, do a search of your own for free at sites like http://www.fastweb.com and http://www.finaid.org and via Google and Twitter searches. Many of those paid matching services will send you a list similar to those you can find yourself. Check the free scholarship sites first.

Remember there are no guarantees.

Nobody can guarantee that you’ll win a scholarship. Never pay to apply for a scholarship.   

Avoid the conference and membership scams

Like fake scholarships, this type of scam seeks your money without offering you much in return. “Congratulations on being nominated to attend the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C.,” reads the fancy script on the expensive-feeling card complete with a gold seal. The card promises a “lifetime advantage” and valuable resume padding. It’s hard to miss the words “elite,” “college,” “distinguished,” and “select.”

The letter’s claim that this program is a huge honor and will distinguish you as a college applicant is simply not true. These particular leadership conferences won’t enhance your college applications any more than a high school art club. You may meet other kids who are interested in government, attend workshops, hear speakers, and sightsee, but getting invited isn’t an “honor.” College admissions officers and college advisors are aware that attendance for most students depends on their zip code and ability to pay.  Memberships in programs like the National Society of High School Scholars aren’t so exclusive either no matter what their websites say.