Officials Warn Of College Scholarship Scams

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(Host)  While high school students watch their mailboxes for college acceptance letters, their parents may wonder how they’ll pay for that education.  

And as VPR’s Nina Keck reports – scammers are taking advantage.

(Keck)  When you consider the cost of a college education it’s not surprising that families are eager to take advantage of all possible scholarships or grant money. But Paula Flemming, of the Better Business Bureau says be careful.

(Flemming) "We’re telling people don’t pay for free advice on scholarships for colleges – we have several complaints against companies that are charging for what’s already out there for free."

(Keck) Flemming says one company sent prospective college students a letter explaining that they’d been selected for a personal interview.  

(Flemming) "The students call for their interview and then they’re scheduled for a financial aid seminar along with a bunch of other parents and students and then the complainants said they’d ended up paying more than $1,000 for help finding aid. But the services offered were mostly just assistance in filling out the aid forms."

(Keck) Steve Sampson, head of the guidance department at Rutland High School, says families need to do their homework and be cautious. For instance, he says anyone interested in applying for aid will fill out what’s called a FAFSA – that’s a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. But when you go on line for information, Sampson says it’s easy to get sidetracked.

He says the legitimate Web site is FAFSA.gov. But he says there’s another one – with a dot-com – that’s not affiliated with the government.

(Samspon) "It looks like it’s a real legitimate website that families can take advantage of and it doesn’t come across as misleading at all, but it certainly is."

(Keck) Sampson says families should also steer clear of any company that guarantees a certain amount of financial aid or scholarship money – or says they have information you can’t get anywhere else.   

The Vermont Student Assistance Corporation says it’s easy for parents to feel overwhelmed.   Because of that, VSAC has just launched new online workshops to answer common questions about paying for college, the scholarship process and how to avoid scams.     

 For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.

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