Scholarships Without Scruples: 3 Signs of Bogus Scholarships and Scams

September 4, 2020

In 2019 Operation Varsity Blues shed light on organized admissions fraud in the United States. Although that scandal focused on the American context, the problem of counterfeit credentials, fake degrees, and other kinds of academic fraud is a global issue.

My colleague, Jamie Carmichael, from Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada), and I have begun some systematic inquiry into these topics. Among them, the issue of scholarship scams has come up repeatedly. We wanted to share some telltale signs of bogus scholarships we have found as part of our work.

Signs of a Scholarship Scam

#1 Credit card required

Legitimate scholarships do not require students, parents, or anyone else to submit credit card information as part of an application. If an application requires you to include this information, it might not be a legitimate scholarship at all.

#2 Discount in disguise

We have found an increasing number of so-called scholarships offered by businesses that are merely a discount for their services. In order to receive the alleged scholarship, students must purchase products or services (e.g., editing of academic work) in order to be eligible for the funds (a.k.a. discount).

Legitimate scholarships do not require students to pay for goods or services in order to receive the funding.

#3 Tax Trickery

In many countries, including Canada, legitimate scholarships and bursaries fall under different tax regulations than earned income. Canadian citizens and permanent residents can find out more on the Canada Revenue Agency website. If the organization awarding the so-called scholarship cannot or will not issue you tax documentation that follows federal taxation requirements, it is likely not a scholarship at all.

Scholarships without scruples: 3 signs of scholarship scams

We are finding increasing evidence of aggressive marketing from organizations promoting various kinds of scholarship scams. This includes sending direct e-mails to students, professors, and university administrators proclaiming how their “opportunity” (i.e., scam) benefits students.

If you are unsure about whether a funding offering might be legitimate or not, consult with an academic advisor at your school.

If you are a faculty member or administrator, ensure that you have checked the credibility of any organization asking you to promote alleged scholarships on their behalf.

The old adage applies: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Want to learn more about admissions fraud, fake degrees, fraudulent credentials and scholarship scams? Join Jamie Carmichael and me for our upcoming webinar, “Degrees of Deceit” scheduled for 11 September 2020.


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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

Tutoring scam targets teachers

March 12, 2014

This morning I received an e-mail from a man calling himself “Michael”. The man claimed to want to hire me to tutor his son.

I haven’t done tutoring for about 20 years, so I was both skeptical and fascinated. As I read the e-mail, I realized that it was a new twist on an old scam.

The e-mail promises to pay me whatever rate I want for 12 tutoring sessions. It also says that I can choose the dates, time and location of the session.

Well, that raises some red flags right there. Unless things have changed a whole lot in the past 20 years, most parents want to talk about the pay rate and also want a conversation about the scheduling for the tutoring. In my experience, parents want to know as much (if not more) about me, as I do about their child. They want to know if I am trustworthy and that my home is a safe place.

In my (dated) experience, more often than not, parents want the tutor to go to their home, not the other way around. Unless there’s a really good reason why you, as the tutor, can’t go to the child’s house to offer the lesson (as in, it’s tough to schlep around your piano from house to house), many parents are willing to pay a bit more to avoid the hassle of driving. Besides, they can keep an eye on their child (and you) while they have some much-needed time to do other things at home. There’s something fishy about this e-mail…

The message then goes on to say that I should send the writer the following information:

  • My full name
  • My home address
  • My home phone number
  • My mobile phone number

By now, the metaphorical red lights should be going off in your head, along with an inside voice (using a megaphone) screaming, “Scam alert!”

Here is a copy of the e-mail:



    I’m Michael, During my search for a lesson teacher that would help in taking my son (Kenneth). During is stay in USA. I found your advert and it is very okay to me since you specialize in the area I’m seeking for him. My son would be coming to your city before the end of this month for a period of time with his friend,

  I’ll like to know if you can help in taking him for the lesson? just to keep him busy. Kenneth is 14 years old, So kindly let me know your charges cost per hour/lesson in order for me to arrange for his payment before he travels down to your side.

 He will be staying there for one months.

Please Reply back on:

 (1). Your charges per 1 hour (3 times a week for 1 Month):starting from 17th March until 17th April 2014

 (2)  Total Cost For 12 class/12 hours lessons  in 1 month

 (3). The Day and time you will be available to teach him During the week:

  Well am very happy that i see you as my Son tutor,about your years of Experience there is no problem about the lessons,my caregiver lives very close to the Area.

 So there is no problem for the lesson OK my caregiver will be bringing him to your location for the lessons and you can teach my him Anywhere around you if that is OK by you so i will like you to teach my Son the best of you when he get to the USA for the lessons.

 I will like you to email me with your schedule for the lessons, I will like you to email me with the name on the check and Full mailing address where the check will be mailed to and including your Home and Cell phone number because my attorney that want to issue out the check is leaving the State by this week okay and also Kenneth is a beginner lessons learning, Await  your response asap.

  Also the lessons will commence by 17th March until 17th April 2014  is this okay by you?

I will be awaiting to read from you.

Best Wishes,


Teacher scam

As with many scam e-mails, the grammar is terrible and the content is generic. There’s no mention of what subject I might tutor. The writer also talks about an attorney who would manage the transaction. That always makes things sound legit, right? Oh, and the writer assumes I live in the U.S., too.

A while ago I posted a blog about the life of a contract teacher and why it is important to feel a sense of empowerment over your career, even if it does not follow a traditional path. There are hundreds of thousands of us around the globe who work in the education field, but who don’t have a full-time job with a pension or health benefits. Personally, I am more productive when I have high levels of flexibility and variety in my work and I enjoy my work as an independent education professional. But not everyone feels that way.

In general, it’s fair to say that teachers are smart people who care deeply about their students’ well-being. But they are also human beings with mortgages other bills to pay for. There are more and more trained and qualified educators who don’t work in the sector at all because they can’t find a job of any kind. So instead they work in coffee shops, run day homes or work in retail, just to pay the bills.

The chance to work in their beloved field of education by tutoring the child of a rich foreigner right in your own home sounds seductive. When you add to that the almost unbelievable terms that you set the time, location and rate of pay, it makes it seem almost irresistible.

Most would do anything to work in their chosen profession. 

Well… almost anything.

Don’t be fooled, folks. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sadly, this is the second such financial scam I’ve seen directed towards educators in the past year. I wrote about the first one, here.

These financial scams are a sign of the times, as more qualified educators become part of the unemployed and (largely hidden) under-employed categories of workers.

Stay smart, teachers.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Freelance teachers and tutors beware: New webinar scam targets professional educators

March 20, 2012

Are you a freelance or contact teacher? Are you interested in offering online courses or webinars?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you’ll want to beware of a new webinar scam that targets teachers, trainers, tutors, coaches and consultants. Do not be fooled…

The scam

The scam goes something like this:

You are contacted by a person or organization offering to pay you a handsome sum for a webinar or a one-hour e-learning or Skype tutoring session ($500 to $1000 USD — or more).

You are invited to communicate with the organizers via phone, e-mail or Skype. If you agree to a phone or Skype session, they will keep you on the line, telling how great their organization is and the great results they get for their clients. (In other words, “blah, blah, blah…”)

This introduction could go from anywhere between five and twenty minutes. If you only agree to e-mail, they will likely push for a phone or Skype meeting. They want your undivided attention to engage you in all the hype, get your heart rate up and sweep you up in all their excited sales fluff.

When they think you are suitably convinced, you are then invited to give a webinar (or Skype tutoring session) for them. If you agree, this is where the scam goes into full force…

You will then be told that you will be billed or sent an invoice for $10,000 (or some other outrageous amount) which you must first pay, in order to take part in their program.

So, first they will offer to pay you, then it will be flipped around so that you have to pay them, in order to “be registered”, “be affiliated” or some other such nonsense.

Do not be fooled. The entire purpose of this scam is to get you to give up your hard-earned dollars and give them to someone who does not care about you, your teaching or your programs.

But wait… It gets worse…

You may then be told that they DID told about the costs from the beginning. If you challenge them on this, they will swear up and down that you are wrong. They will claim that they have been perfectly transparent and either you weren’t listening or you were negligent in not paying attention. They may go so far as to indignantly proclaim that you are insulting their professionalism and ethics.

They play with your emotions in order to try to make you feel guilty… This is part of the scam. The idea, of course, is that you’ll feel bad and then cough up the money that you already (supposedly) promised to pay. Do not worry, you are not crazy. You did not promise anything. This is part of their hook.

Do not be taken in by this, or any other con artists.

 Here are tips to avoid being taken in by a webinar scam

  1. Check out every organization or individual who invites you to do a paid webinar or e-learning class for them. Legitimate organizations who are interested in 21st century technologies will almost certainly have a valid website. (Even humble non-profits have websites these days. The site may be badly outdated, but they likely have one.)
  2. Be wary of e-mails coming from a public, free service. Ask yourself, “Why is this person not writing to me from a professional e-mail address?” I say that with tongue in cheek though, because I also use a Gmail account for some of my work… But not all of it. I am also highly searchable on the web, with books published on Amazon with papers published in peer-reviewed journals  and so forth. My point is: Investigate these new “friends”. Make sure they are legitimate and well known in their field.
  3. If the client, school or organization is unknown for you, treat an e-learning program, an online tutoring session or a webinar as any other course you might teach. Get a signed contract. Even the most meagre non-profit organization will agree to a contract for your professional services. Even a simple, one-page agreement will do. I always get an agreement with any school or non-profit I am working with. It helps both sides understand what is expected.
  4.  Trust your instincts. If a deal feels “off”, then it probably is. At the very least, it is likely not a good fit for you. Decline invitations that do not align with your professional values, ethics or area of expertise. Don’t waste your time (or your money) on professional “offers” that feel “off”. There are other organizations out there waiting for you and who would love to work with you.

You are a professional educator, tutor, instructor or presenter and you deserve to be treated as a professional — and get paid for your knowledge and expertise… not be scammed out of your hard earned money.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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