Many legitimate companies advertise that they can get students access to lists of scholarships in exchange for an advance fee that ranges from $ 10 to $ 400. Others charge an advance fee to compare a student’s profile with a database of scholarship opportunities and provide a list of awards for which the student may qualify. They don’t guarantee or promise scholarships or grants.

Some scholarship search services do misrepresent their services, guaranteeing that they can obtain scholarships on behalf of students or actually award scholarships to students for an advance fee. In these cases, consumers receive only a list of scholarships or grants for which they can apply. Usually, all consumers receive the same list, regardless of their qualifications. The search companies that offer a “money back guarantee” usually require students to apply for each scholarship or grant they have listed and then offer proof that they’ve been denied by each one.

Other fraudulent companies provide nothing for the student’s advance fee — not even a list of sources. Still others tell students they’ve been selected as “finalists” for awards that require fees first. These scams usually ask for the student’s checking account to “confirm eligibility for an award,” and then debit the account for large fees.

Charging a lot for a service isn’t illegal what makes some of these companies fraudsters is that they collect money to find scholarships for students but never provide the information, or they misrepresent themselves as a government agency in order to appear legitimate and attract customers, or they guarantee they’ll get the student full funding for college (and then don’t). Still, although it’s obviously legal to charge for services genuinely rendered, you should keep reading if you want to save yourself some money.

If you’re searching the Internet for scholarships and visit a site that asks for your credit card or another form of payment before it’ll help you find funding, you might want to keep searching. Similarly, if you or your parents are contacted by an unfamiliar organization that invites you to an “interview” or “seminar” about preparing and paying for college, do your homework. Ask your high school counselor or a college financial aid administrator whether they’ve heard of the organization and know it’s legitimate. In many cases, such invitations are a way to get you and your parents to come listen to a sales pitch: the company wants you to pay for advice on scholarships and other funding.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you the information they offer can’t be found anywhere else. You can get free advice from a variety of sources. The best places to start are your high school counselor or a college financial aid administrator.

For details about financial aid scams and additional sources of free information, visit Looking for Student Aid site.

George Jefferson is an Education Specialist with CompleteSchools.com (http://www.completeschools.com/).  Complete Schools has Information on over 6,500 colleges and 120,000 public and private schools.  Complete Schools also hosts a large resource section to help you achieve your educational goals. Resources include Student Loans.