Scholarship Scams & Social Security Numbers (Monday Mailbag!)

by Judge Josh on March 29, 2010

Hello, amigos. Monday’s mailbag day around here (it is starting today, anyway), so we’re gonna get to your comments ASAP. Turns out I’ve got some extracurricular work to do this afternoon. I’m judging the Nebraska College Media Association awards in the advertising category, and I happened to pick up my judging packet and see that the fine folks down at Chadron State University need my results by April 1. That’s Thursday. Better get on that, I suppose.

OK, onward we go. This week, you’re worried (naturally) about scholarship scams and people ripping off your personal information, including your Social Security Number.

Monday Mailman watches you while you sleep.

A popular post with y’all this week was the one about the $10,000 Scholarship Drawings and whether they’re legitimate or not.  Here are some of the best questions and comments we’ve gotten, especially since they’re from students who have actually filled out the forms — something I haven’t done because I’m not in school.

John (no last name given) writes:

I have filled out these scholarship for years without any luck. What I have found is that they are all the same site under different names, just check the winners in each site and they are the same people. Also there is a limit to the number of time per week you can sign up for the winnings. Check the fine print.

Very good advice. I’ve not seen what he refers to with the winners being the same on every site, although he brings up a good point. The provider of some of these scholarships, a company called Vinyl, allows its affiliates to use “splash pages” and URLs. (If you missed my explanation of how affiliates and affiliate marketing drive this process, you should read it now for context.)

Anyhow, what this means is that affiliates/website owners who are particularly aggressive about making money by referring students to apply for these awards will buy their own URLs (say, scholarships4mommys.biz or something like that) and essentially re-create the home page of the original site (scholarships4moms.net, or whatever it is).

Why is this important? Well, it certainly gives you (and perhaps has given John above) the impression that there are more of these drawings than there really are. Just as a bonus little piece of info for you here, this is an email directly from the scholarship-site owners to the affiliate programs, in which they more or less tell the affiliate programs to whip these affiliates into shape in terms of what they may say in order to entice you students to apply:

“With the popularity of Facebook and your publishers creating splash pages to help increase conversion our advertisers are starting to crack down and making sure that was is advertised on these splash pages is relevant information and reflects Scholarships 4 Moms (as well as any of our other scholarship properties) in good taste.Please have all of your pubs update their splash pages by Thursday, March 25, so that content is correct and the look and feel follow that of Vinyl’s scholarship landing page.


Below you will find screen shots of what types of splash pages are acceptable and what aren’t.  In a few days I will also follow up listing in detail what we do not want to see within these splash pages.  In the meantime please relay to your publishers the following:

  • The page must be clean and simple
  • Information MUST be relavant
  • Splash page must look and feel  like our Scholarships landing page


What we won’t accept:

  • Please DO NOT use any copy that includes grant, loan, stimulus or any involvement with Obama.  Our offer is a scholarship giveaway so including anything regarding a loan, grant or President Obama is irrelevant.
  • We have never been seen on media outlets such as ABC, CBS, Forbes, CNN News or USA Today.  Do not include this in any form of advertising to our offer.  Again irrelevant.
  • Do not include any invalid statements such as “88% of California moms qualify!”


Below are good examples of what is accepted and what’s not accepted.  A reminder that Facebook placements should be approved before hand.  Moving forward if we find that any of your splash pages or ads that do not comply with our policies links will be disabled. If you have publishers currentlly running splash pages that don’t comply with our terms they will need to be revised immediately.

We have seen an increasing number of pubs using splash pages in our Facebook ads.  These splash pages are okay, but they must be in good taste, follow the look and feel of our scholarship landing page, adhere to Vinyl’s quality standard.”

—–

There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. Do with it what you will, just thought I’d share.

Now, on to another pressing issue — the Social Security Number. In this post about submitting sensitive personal information, I advise you — well, not to do so. But a couple of you brought up some example this week where you really don’t have much choice.

Andrew Weir writes:

The Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship asks for the SSN to be printed on top of all the pages in the transcript package.

I checked this out — the Jackie Robinson scholarship does indeed require the SSN to appear on transcripts. This doesn’t bother me too much, because a) if it’s an official transcript, your SSN is probably already on there anyway, and b) the Jackie Robinson Foundation is a well-known and legit scholarship program. Also, when I looked through the entry criteria, I didn’t see anything to indicate that the Jackie Robinson folks wanted you to write/include your SSN on any document that didn’t, very probably, have your SSN on it to start out with. So, I’ve got no problem with that one.

Cindy O’Malley wrote today and said:

My daughter recently completed a scholarship package for a single group that offers (or selects and awards, I guess) about 3 dozen different scholarships. You fill out the form once, check the boxes on the list for each one you want to apply to, and then make a copy of the whole form for each one you selected. This one required the SS# at the top of each page, including the forms filled out by those giving references. I didn’t think much about it at the time because we’d been doing college apps too, and those include SS#. Should we be worried about these? And do you have any advice for how to handle this in the future?

Well, it all depends on who this group is, and if they’re reputable. Cindy, if you’re out there and reading this, let us know specifically which group it is and I’ll sniff them out.

However, whoever the group is, they shouldn’t be requiring your child’s SSN on forms that are going to to third parties, like references — especially if the references are supposed to send their letters directly to the program (and not you), which would then require your daughter to write her SSN on a form and send it off to someone outside the control of the program. Sure, they probably presume that if that person is your reference then you won’t mind such a thing, but frankly that’s a stupid assumption. You may love and endorse my work, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m going to hand over my SSN to you.

Merlin writes:

Does anybody actually know anybody who has one such a “scholarship”? They might just always be the same people who win, as stated in an earlier post…they might be the kids of the owners of the website or something like that.

I don’t, personally. I’ll say that awarding the scholarship to the owner’s kids would be pretty amateurish and the quickest possible way to get your enterprise shut down and end up in jail for fraud, so I don’t think that’s what’s happening. However, like Merlin asked — nope, I don’t know any winners personally, so I can’t swear to it myself!

Billie writes:

Excellent article. Thanks for the info. I suspected most of what you explained, which is why I don’t use my main email address when I sign up for these. I opened a free AOL account which I use anytime I sign up for something free and/or a “scholarship” drawing. That way, when I start getting all kinds of emails from other companies, they’re not cluttering up my main email account.

Thanks, Billie, and that whole alternate-email address thing is something I subscribe to wholeheartedly. And if you happen to have a Gmail address, you can actually track where your spam’s coming from. Let’s say I have an email address “judgejosh@gmail.com” (that’s not my email, btw). Well, you can put a plus sign and whatever you want before the @ sign, and you’ll still get the mail. For instance, if I was doing one of those scholarship emails, I could enter:

judgejosh+10kscholarship@gmail.com

…and it’d still work fine. And then, later on, if I notice a bunch of spam coming into my gmail account addressed to judgejosh+10kscholarship, then I’ll know where it came from.

And the most stellar response of all came from a lady named Jen, but we’re already at 1,600-ish words here, so I’m gonna cut it off and save Jen for later this week.

OK, gang, I’m off to take more Mucinex and decide the fate of some up-and-coming Nebraska College Media professionals. Have a great day! Hope you’re feeling better than I am. I’ve got a fever and could use a nap. One of those serious, two-hours, wake up and wonder if it’s morning or nighttime nap.

Best,
“Judge Josh” Barsch

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie March 30, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Thank you for the information. It is very helpful!

Reply

mick March 31, 2010 at 4:21 am

That’s true there has been thousands of site out there with different names and site but they all bore to one site out there deceiving people who are ignorant. But for straight forward scholarship scheme i have a strong hope and trust that it is genuine and any body who is applying should be open minded and apply without fear. This scholarship scheme have been proven by me to be to be straight forward indeed in all tier dealing with numerous people out there that is graving for scholarship to meet one need or the other in their academics.
Over here in Nigeria where i reside there has been many blogs and site where scholarship opportunities to study abroad is littered here and there but at the tail end of every thing you are ask to bring money for processing your form or other things but i will say God bless you guys and give you more strength on handling this scholarship scheme.

Reply

asiwaju babatunde clement March 31, 2010 at 6:30 am

Thank u very much.

Reply

asiwaju babatunde clement March 31, 2010 at 6:34 am

l am a product of Adekunle ajasin university Akungba akoko ondo state Nigerria

Reply

Toiya March 31, 2010 at 11:30 am

I get stuff all the time. If it did not come through the college directly or through legitiamte source
I don’t bother.

Reply

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