Education Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Them

Published on Sep 19, 2023

Education Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Them

The back-to-school season is here, and students are gearing up for a new academic journey. However, amid the excitement, it’s crucial to be aware of potential online scams targeting students.

For instance, diploma mills are rising; they lure students with easy-to-obtain degrees and don’t set students up with credentials that help them academically or professionally. Additionally, bogus degree programs overcharge for credentials that don’t have value. Some scammers also offer scholarships that never materialize, instead harvesting personal data from applicants.

The first step to staying safe is understanding how students can protect their personal and financial information and steer clear of digital pitfalls. With practical tips and insights, students can have a solid foundation to ensure a secure and informed during their educational pursuits.

Identifying Fake Degree Programs

The rise of fake degree programs and diploma mills stems from the demand for student credentials. They exploit lax regulations and online anonymity, deceiving individuals with worthless qualifications for profit. Red flags for fake degree programs include:

To stay safe from these scams, always check for official accreditation of institutions offering degrees — a simple online search can be an easy first step. It’s essential to research the program’s reputation and verify contact information; legitimate institutions provide precise details and have transparent admission processes and a way to get in touch with any questions.

Before enrolling in any degree program, it’s also important to thoroughly research schools and colleges. Rely on trusted sources for gathering information, such as official websites, government databases, and education forums. 

Verifying the Legitimacy of Scholarships

A common scam is fake scholarships promising financial aid. Scholarships can be an essential piece of the puzzle for students to help them fund their academic journeys. Yet some scholarship offers are not genuine — these so-called opportunities often ask for a fee to apply and require extensive personal details, which nefarious actors often end up stealing personal information.

To stay safe, start by verifying the authenticity of scholarships and including checking for official websites, and contact information. Additionally, be wary of offers that guarantee scholarships for a fee. Scholarships are often competitive, and ones that seem too good to be true often are.

Protecting Personal Information Online

Many of these scams are not only parting unknowing students with their money, but also stealing important personal information, such as Social Security numbers, bank account information, and more. This can be a problem in the long term, leaving students open to identity theft and fraud.

Students should safeguard their personal information by using secure, reputable websites, avoiding sharing sensitive data through email or social media, regularly monitoring accounts, and using strong, unique passwords for each account. If they have a question about whether they should share information, don’t hesitate to contact the website requesting the information.

Staying Cautious of Phishing Attempts

A long-running — and often very compelling — scam is phishing emails and messages that can trick students into revealing personal information. These emails look like they come from official organizations, such as school or scholarship purveyors, but they are not, and contain harmful links that can steal data. These may also show up as social media scams.

Before providing personal information, students should check the sender’s email address and avoid clicking on suspicious links.

Seeking Guidance from Trusted Sources

Students may want to consult parents, teachers, school counselors, or mentors when making important educational decisions, especially when they involve paying fees or putting down so-called deposits on scholarships, educational programs or even student loans.  Experienced adults may better understand the educational landscape and know what kinds of scams are out there, which can help protect students who may just be starting their educational journeys.

Reporting Suspected Scams

If students identify a scam, it’s important to report suspected scams to relevant authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Better Business Bureau, the State licensing agency, or the State Board of Higher Education, or local law enforcement. Reporting a scam can keep both the student safe from further exploitation and help keep others safe in the future.


From misleading scholarships to fake degree programs, students must stay vigilant online as they seek opportunities and education. Never hesitate to double-check any resource by verifying its legitimacy through third-party sources, whether searching online or contacting the website directly. Best cybersecurity practices are also important. Students should prioritize protecting themselves to ensure they’re getting the most out of their educational journey, and stay safe going forward.



This article is for informational purposes only Neither Valley National Bank nor any of its affiliates makes any representations or warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of the statements or any information contained in this document and any liability therefore is expressly disclaimed.

We can help protect you from identity theft and fraud

We can help protect you from identity theft and fraud

We take our customers' security very seriously at Valley, and we take significant measures to protect the security of your bank accounts and your personal and account information.

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