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Posted at 7:30 AM ET, 02/15/2011

How to avoid college scholarship and aid scams

By Valerie Strauss

The good news: Billions of dollars are available for scholarships and financial aid for college-bound students. The bad news: It isn’t that hard to get scammed, or to wind up paying for services that you could have received for free.

The federal government offers good advice on how to avoid it. Here are things you should know:

*You can get all the help you want to seek scholarships and financial aid for free. Ask a high school counselor or a college financial aid administrator for sources of free information. Here are some you can try:

U.S. Department of Education’s Web site
www.FederalStudentAid.ed.gov
your state education agency

*There is no fee to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But there are a number of websites that charge you money to do it.

Many people try to find application on-line with the wrong terms: fasfa com, fasfa edu, fasfa gov, fasfa gov edu, FASA, fasa com, fasa edu, fasa gov, fasa gov edu. They can wind up on a website that asks you to pay a fee to file the form, and sometimes, to file the wrong form.
The correct website is http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/#. If you need help, talk to your school’s financial aid officer or call 1-800-433-3243.

*For-profit companies are legally allowed to charge for providing scholarship information, and some can cost more than $1,000. But they aren’t allowed to:

--Collect fees but never provide the information
--Misrepresent themselves as a government official
--Guarantee they’ll get the student full funding for college

*If you find a site on the Internet that asks for your credit card or other form of payment, keep looking. The same holds true if your family is invited to a seminar or interview about how to pay for college. If you have any questions about its legitimacy, ask a high school or college counselor.

*Some phrases to watch for at seminars, over the phone from telemarketers, or online:

"Buy now or miss this opportunity." Don’t give in to pressure tactics. Remember, the “opportunity” is a chance to pay for information you could find yourself for free. We’ve provided a list of free sources below.

“We guarantee you’ll get aid.” A company could claim it fulfilled its promise if you were offered student loans or a $200 scholarship but still charged a lot more. Besides, no one can guarantee aid.

“I’ve got aid for you; give me your credit card or bank account number.” Never give out a credit card or bank account number unless you know the organization you are giving it to is legitimate.

"Millions of dollars in aid go unclaimed every year; don’t you want some of that money?" The "millions" usually represent an estimated national total of employee benefits or member benefits—available only to the employees or members (and their families) of the companies, unions or other organizations offering the funds.

"The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back."

"You can’t get this information anywhere else."

"We’ll do all the work."

"The scholarship will cost some money."

"You’ve been selected" by a "national foundation" to receive a scholarship - or "You’re a finalist" in a contest you never entered.


*If you attend a seminar on financial aid or scholarships:

--Take your time. Don’t be rushed into paying at the seminar. Avoid high-pressure sales pitches that require you to buy right away or risk losing out.

--Investigate the organization you’re considering paying for help.

--Be wary of "success stories" or testimonials of extraordinary success - the seminar operation may have paid "shills" to give glowing stories. Ask for a list of at least three local families who used the services in the last year and make sure they were satisfied.

--Get in writing how much the service costs, what exactly the company will do and the refund policy.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 15, 2011; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Life  | Tags:  college costs, college financial aid, college scholarships, fafsa, federal student aid, financial aid, free scholarships, how to get student aid, paying for college, scholarship scams, scholarship search, student aid  
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Comments

Informative article, but did not see the indicated "list of free sources below."

Posted by: ihsconsulting | February 16, 2011 2:04 AM | Report abuse

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