Avoiding Scholarship Scams

FRESNO, Calif.

Competition for money for college is tougher than ever thanks to the recession and many colleges raising tuition.

The internet has changed the way students can find aid. Just make sure you know the process of finding money should be free. Try searches like scholarships.com and fastweb.com. When it comes to scholarship scams, a big red flag: anyone who asks you to give them money, in order to get you money.

Dayana Yochim, a consumer finance expert says: "Anyone who's asking you for money to fill out forms or to match you up with a scholarship or aid, chances are, it's a scam."

Many scams involve websites that look legit, with words like "foundation" or "government aid" all over, but ask you to pay money upfront for access to scholarships, that you could find for free.

Don't fall for any service that promises "guaranteed or your money back".

Another popular scam: letters or emails that say your child has been selected for a "special" seminar or workshop where financial aid forms will be filled out for you, for a fee. Yochim explains, "They'll fill out an application that's free for you to do anyway. They'll try to pitch you -- you're invited to this seminar -- and they're trying to pitch you for another product, say to sell you insurance or some sort of investment product."

Remember there are plenty of free resources to help you with the search, including your child's high school. It's a process you'll want to start early, even before you have the acceptance letter.

Start with the FAFSA form (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ ), the "free application for federal student aid." March 2nd is the deadline for California and FAFSA is the gateway to all aid, including grants which are free money -- that doesn't have to be repaid.

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