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As the school year approaches, many high school seniors—as well as scores of current college students—will be looking for college scholarships to help fund their higher education bills.

With tuition and fees on the rise at public and private colleges and universities nationwide, it’s no wonder that many U.S. students and their families are seeking assistance with college expenses.

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Unfortunately, a number of college scholarship scams also abound in America. If you’re not careful, you could wind up getting duped by one of these fraudulent offers. According to the Better Business Bureau, here are five college scholarship scams and financial aid cons to avoid.

1. Application Fees

The BBB urges caution if someone tries charge you an application fee for a scholarship, even if the fee is minimal or the foundation claims the fee is to only encourage serious students to apply. 

BBB officials say that legitimate scholarship foundations do not charge an application fee.

2. Guaranteed Scholarships

Avoid any scholarship services that claim you are “guaranteed” to receive money. If you’re competing for a genuine scholarship, no individual can honestly “guarantee” you’ll win that free money. But that won’t stop con artists from making this claim.

Most likely, the scammer is really just trying to get you or a family member to supply bank account information or a credit card number. Supposedly, you have to supply this information in order to “receive” the grant. But don’t be fooled by such lies. The only reason someone would ask for your credit card or bank info is because they want to access it—and not to put money into the account, but rather to take money out.

When some con artists claim they can provide you with “guaranteed” scholarships, they’ll often use official-sounding names with the words “federal” or “national” in the title. But don’t fall for this old con either; they’re not really affiliated with any agency of the federal government.


3. Solicitations

The BBB suggests that students be wary of letters, emails or phone calls stating you have been selected or that you’re “a finalist” for a scholarship for which you never applied. Such a notice is a big red flag and should alert you to a sure-fire college scholarship scam. So don’t respond to such letters or click on any attachments in these kinds of emails. Refrain too from giving any of your personal or banking information (over the phone or in writing) to these scam solicitations.

Bona fide student loan companies don’t impose upfront application fees. So they won’t ask you for a check or credit card payment upfront.

4. Advance-Fee Loans

Because most students can’t pay for college on their own, scammers know that plenty of families are looking for college loans. So be on the lookout for fraud in the loan area as well.

Avoid lenders that offer you an unusually low-interest rate for an education loan and then require an upfront fee prior to you actually getting the loan. Stick instead to lenders or banks that you’re familiar with, otherwise you could wind up dealing with some fly-by-night operation that’s here today and gone (with your money) tomorrow. 

Realize that bona fide student loan companies don’t impose upfront application fees. So they won’t ask you for a check or credit card payment upfront. Instead, they take their processing fees out of your loan amount before you receive your loan check.

If you already have student loans, and are trying to pay them off, don’t get taken by con artists that boast that they can help you eliminate your debt—in exchange for a hefty, upfront fee. It’s illegal for someone to try to charge you upfront fees, even to consolidate your loans. But that doesn’t stop many indebted students from falling victim to these types of scams.

5. Seminars   

All across the country, you can find “informational” seminars and workshops on scholarships or college financial aid. Although some of these can be legitimate, be aware many are primarily designed to serve a sales pitch for scholarship services. 

So keep your guard up while at these types of seminars. Don’t get pressured into paying for services on the spot. Before you purchase any services, carefully research the organization, get all your questions answered, and even see if you can get a referral and speak to a satisfied customer or two. Don’t simply fork over your hard-earned dollars if you’re not absolutely sure about what to expect or if you have doubts about the company.

Follow the tips mentioned above, and you can avoid college scholarship scams.

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox is a personal finance expert and co-founder of the free financial advice site, AskTheMoneyCoach.com. Follow Lynnette on Twitter @themoneycoach and Google Plus.