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Scam Alert

7 College Financial Aid Cons

Avoid the tricks scammers use to get your money

4. Congratulations! These notifications bring happy news: Junior has already won a scholarship that was never applied for. Now, it's true that some scholarships are offered without an application being filed, based on the student's record, but notification will come from the high school or directly from the college — not from a third-party letter or in an e-mail. Ignore any offer when the congrats letter comes with a check and instructions to deposit it and forward some of the money.

5. Phony invitations. A letter invites your student for a personal interview with a third-party "recruiter," "college counselor" or other self-described expert. After some schmoozing, in which the host remarks how impressive the student is, the so-called screening ends and another invite is given, to a seminar, where for-fee services are hawked. You can guess whether those services are worth it.

6. Lies about loans. The biggest form of financial aid is loans provided by the Federal Student Aid program, the U.S. Department of Education and private institutions that administer government-backed student loans. You can get reliable information on these loans at financial aid seminars promoted by your student's high school.

Beware of unsolicited invites to off-site gatherings. They're often a front to sign you up for overpriced loans or to glean personal information such as bank account or Social Security numbers for identity theft.

7. Fraudulent free trials. Trash any CD or kit that offers a free trial of a service that will show you how to get federal grants. The Better Business Bureau warns that some companies hawking the wares will charge you up to $69 in advance — and recipients say that whatever information may arrive is useless to boot.

A high school counselor is a better and free source of this know-how.

Sid Kircheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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