The most critical feature in identifying a scam whether there is a charge applied for a service. It is common for a needy family to pay $1,000 or more for assistance in obtaining financial aid. Such costs are inappropriate and a scam. If there is a promise of an improved amount or type of financial aid award the family can expect the offer is most likely a scam. It’s just not possible to guarantee an improved level of grant or scholarship support.

There are some legitimate companies that can assist in filing our forms and provide a legitimate level of assistance. Such costs should be relevant and appropriate for the level of service provided.

Virtually every financial office has professionals that provide assistance free of charge to families. Families can go to local college and sit down with a financial aid professional at no charge for help completing the required documents.

Red flags of a scam

While each scam is different and scammers are constantly developing new pitches, the following are common red flags:

  • Registration, entry or administration fee Legitimate scholarship program do not require upfront fees.
  • Required payment in cash. With cash there is no paper trail in case you get in trouble or want a refund.
  • Soliciting your credit or bank account number. Never give out this kind of financial information to anyone who contacts you if you have not requested then to do so.
  • Refusal to reveal name address or phone number. Something is wrong when the person on the telephone won’t reveal his name or contact information.
  • Guarantee. There is no such thing as a guaranteed scholarship in exchange for a fee. Legitimate scholarships are based on merit or need, not on your willingness to pay a registration fee.

If you discover that you have been the victim of one of these scams report your experience to the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission ( to help prevent it from happening to others.