Chapman University will move to block a scholarship society selling memberships to students from having access to student emails as a result of a Prowl inquiry, said Ryan Tanovan, Chapman’s cybersecurity specialist.
Twenty-two students appear to have sent payment to The National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) after the organization sent emails congratulating 1,478 students on The Provost’s List for their GPA achievements on April 6th, 2019. NSCS offered $95 memberships promising scholarships and other benefits with membership.
NSCS is an honor society for students who have demonstrated academic excellence in their college career, according to the website. In the email that was sent to students, NSCS claims to be a “nationally recognized and respected organization that is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit,” that is “unlike some organizations that claim to be legitimate honor societies.”
But its critics complain there are few benefits that accompany membership and those that are extended are misleadingly represented.
Complaints are rife about NSCS, which did not respond to three emails and five phone calls seeking response.
Hundreds of people have posted complaints about poor customer service, inaccurate membership benefit descriptions, endless requests for payments, and simply receiving no rewards or benefits from joining the honor society on sites such as the Better Business Bureau, Reddit, CollegePrep, and College Confidential.
One of the few complaints made about receiving no responses back from NSCS via email or phone.
A total of 1,478 students at Chapman received the email invitation from the NSCS, Tanovan said. Freshman communication major Sofia Fernandez was among the students who received the email invitation this spring. It was familiar: She had received another in her senior year of high school.
“When I saw the subject of the email in high school, I was pretty surprised and happy. From the title, it seems really legit, professional, and distinguished – like something I could potentially put on my resume or LinkedIn. I even called my mom and told her about it, and she was overjoyed,” Fernandez said.
The congratulatory email assures the reader, “You’re a part of an elite group of high-achieving first-and second-year college students across the nation who’ve been invited to join NSCS this year. Being nominated means you’ve earned at least a 3.4 GPA during the most recent semester and you’re in the top 20 percent of your class. (Less than 10% of all students at Chapman University qualify.). . .
This one-time investment of $95 makes you eligible for the more than $1,000,000 in scholarships, chapter funds, and awards to members annually, including $50,000 in new member awards and $60,000 in induction awards,” it says.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, W.E.B. DuBois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University Henry Louis Gates and Marian Wright Edelman, Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund are among the honorary members on the board or involved with the organization, according to the invitation.
Tanovan thought the invitation was misleading: “NSCS offers $50,000 in scholarship or educational funds, but once you delve into their email deeper, you see that it’s split between 50 candidates. If you split that money evenly at a minimum, that’s $1000 each,” Tanovan said.
Fernandez regrets having paid $95 to join in high school and was surprised to be targeted again.
“Both times, the email has made me feel like my accomplishments were acknowledged and noticed. It definitely made me feel special and it had an extremely persuasive element to it,” Fernandez said. “Parents will probably do anything for their kids and will accept that title, even when I told my mom that I thought it was a scam.”
Megan Russell, a freshman peace studies major, was unaware her parents, who had access to her email, had paid for her membership until she received a payment confirmation.
“I told my mom not to pay for the NSCS membership because I knew it was a scam, but she found the email invitation in my mailbox and paid anyways,” Russell said.
An application deadline of May 11th 2019 was given to students in the email. Students who joined would be invited to a new member induction ceremony on campus, the email said.
Freshman Broadcast Journalism major Vi Nguyen also received a similar email in high school and another one this year.
“I honestly felt super special when I saw the title of the email,” Nguyen said. “But when I opened and saw the body of the email it reminded me of the same one they sent in high school so I just thought, ‘what a joke.’”
Nguyen convinced her willing parents not to shell out any money.
“Once I got to the end point where it said, ‘only for a small fee of $95,’ I knew something was wrong,” Fernandez said. “I received absolutely nothing from joining NSCS. I tried applying for scholarships – not even a response back. I put it on my college applications but it had absolutely no sway whatsoever. All it was, was a title,” Fernandez said.
In the wake of mail phishing scams, Chapman officials are urging students to be cautious in opening any external emails. While the university blocks emails that contain spam or scam content from being sent to student mailboxes, email invitations—such as the ones from NSCS—have so far passed Chapman’s email filter.
Chapman does not give out student emails to third parties, Tanovan said. However, third party entities can easily determine student email addresses by generating Chapman email addresses based on specific formats available online, he said. Rocket Reach is among various websites that provide university email formats for companies and organizations who want to send mass emails to students.
Honor societies can obtain student emails through standard Google searches or through student use of their school emails for other services or applications that are external to the scope of Chapman University, Tanovan said.
A quick Google search for the Provost list, which honors students who have maintained a 3.6 GPA or higher in at least 12 credits of coursework for 2018 and the recent years can be easily found on Chapman University’s website, giving third party entities such as NSCS access to students who are eligible for membership. Tanovan believes NSCS found students to contact by looking at the Provost list.
“I have thought about how these organizations get our emails. I find it really creepy that they have our information because I thought that they were supposed to be private records,” Nguyen said.
“It can be a little annoying to constantly receive scam emails, but it is not something that I am looking to outwardly change,” Fernandez said.
Student emails are shared to MyChapman.edu and Blackboard in order for those services to be integrated with Chapman University’s academic programs but Chapman does not share students’ email addresses externally, said Tanovan.