Let me start by saying this is an opinion piece. I'm not directly accusing anyone of doing anything illegal or immoral. The target of this piece doesn't list their name anywhere so I suppose it would be mildly challenging for them to make a defamation claim anyway.
I'm officially old enough to have a college-aged kid. I know, I'm as surprised as you are. I hear that college is more expensive now than it was the 1990s. Even in the early 2000s I paid just under $5,000 a semester for graduate school. Apparently it's a lot more than that now, so it's off to search for scholarships for us.
Both my kids inherited their mother's red hair. It was roughly a 50/50 shot that we managed to hit twice. Somewhere in the journey of looking at college information we heard rumors of scholarships for all kinds of odd things including a scholarship for simply having red hair. This already seems far-fetched but poking around is free so I looked into it.
There are a few hits for "redhead scholarship" and they all point to the same thing. Here's an apparent content mill talking about it:
That application process is about a 9 on the sketchy scale already. Send photos and transcripts, which contain personal information, to a gmail address? Really, that's the process? No web site, no name behind it?
OK, not a good start... and it doesn't get better from there. At least a dozen sites, including some colleges, have that same description. This page for example says it's talking about "legit" scholarships. It links to a page for this alleged scholarship that is currently a parked domain.
This site used to exist. With an assist from Archive.org we can see it again.
We'll get back to this site later.
In the meantime, let's just punch that email address into The Google and hop to the last page of search results. Everybody knows you find the best stuff on the last page. I know it says there are 3 pages but there are really only 2.
We're up to about a 9.5 on the sketchy scale. Did I mention the max value for this scale I just invented only goes up to 5? I don't really know how credible cutestat.com is. It has the info for my domain correct which means almost nothing I suppose. It seems like a very odd thing for it to mix-up though. It has two domains for this email address. The parked domain we previously saw and an online poker site.
This information is a little stale perhaps. When I look at a current whois for this poker domain the email is redacted everywhere. It's also possible that cutestat.com has access to un-redacted domain data since they are apparently a service to evaluate domain values. Whatever the case, they seem pretty convinced this email address also owns a poker site.
This is not slightly surprising to me as I already thought this email address belonged to a scammer. Yeah, this is classic confirmation bias. I want to believe this is a scammer so I will accept any information that reinforces it. I'll try to put that bias aside and look for evidence that goes against my belief.
Let's go back to that parked domain. It was simply a vanity URL for a Wordpress site. This is a common practice and not sketchy. That Wordress site is still up though and looking at it gets us back to more sketchiness.
This really doesn't sound like how a real scholarship fund works. It's just a few ads though right?
Oh, I guess it's only almost every ad network on the planet. Maybe they have a good story though?
OK, sorry, this does not check out at all.
Here's the way most scholarships work... John Q. Deadguy made a billion dollars through skirting environmental regulations and exploiting tax loopholes. Late in life he feels some regret and yearns for a simpler time when he was a young Geology student. Or maybe his third wife is a Geology major, it doesn't matter. John Q. Deadguy also had a grandmother who survived the Armenian Genocide and raised him while his parents worked two jobs. So he decides to start a scholarship for Geology majors of Armenian descent. This scholarship has "John Q. Deadguy" somewhere in the name because he wants to be remembered as someone who supported education instead of an evil businessperson.
The fact there is no name on this scholarship is super alarming. That alone is a giant red flag. You have zero idea at all who is behind this scholarship, why they are doing it, where they got $500, or what they are doing with your information.
The application process is also terrifying. It was noted previously and here it is as it appeared on their site.
There is nothing about this that seems legitimate. As one more warning, their site has placehoder content.
They also have a Facebook page where they announced a winner with an extremely generic name. The winner is not one of the four likes.
Their about page references a .org site that also used to point to the Wordpress site.
They have a light presence on other social media sites. It's more than mine of course but I'm not trying to convince people to send me their baby photos and high school transcripts.
I couldn't find some of these other accounts. Their Tumblr page has one meme post.
In the end, the absolute most generous interpretation I have is that this is a poorly thought-out idea someone had. It feels much more like a deliberate scam to collect personal data and serve ads. I think completing the application for this alleged scholarship is a terrible idea. It's really a shame that many sites, including (again!) colleges themselves, are recommending it. I can't conclusively say it's a scam but can very comfortably say it has no evidence of being legitimate.