Financial aid may beto good to be true

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    By MICHELLE KOWALSKI

    Students trying to avoid the debt accompanied with student loans often look for other ways to cover the cost of attending college.

    Scholarship research companies offer students services to find scholarships and grants from private corporations. The reliability of these companies is questionable.

    Jeremy Stephenson, a junior from San Jose, Calif., majoring in German, saw an advertisement in the newspaper about financial aid. The company was offering a money back guarantee if you didn’t receive at least $300 in scholarships.

    “I wanted my money back if it wasn’t going to work,” Stephenson said. For $75, he received a directory of private scholarships and grants.

    “You have to mail off between six or nine of these requests and have them returned to get your money back.” he said.

    Stephenson came across a problem as he tried to receive some money to help him through school: not all the organizations send a rejection letter. After applying for several scholarships, he had only received four letters, not enough to get his refund.

    One scholarship research company said they had just changed their money back guarantee policy. In the past, students had to have a certain number of rejection letters to get their money back.

    The new policy allows students to simply return the directory in good condition for a refund. “We tend to give it back without problems.”

    Stephen Hill, from BYU’s scholarship office, said “We certainly caution students to be very careful.”

    Hill and his co-worker Duane Bartle agree that students should be very cautions when using research companies that ask for money.

    A website exists to help students looking for free financial aid. the address is http://www.finaid.org/finaid/scams.html.

    The website gives some warning signs of a possible scam.

    * Application fees

    * Other fees

    * Guaranteed winnings

    * Everybody is eligible

    * Unsolicited opportunities

    * Typing and spelling errors

    * No telephone number

    * Mail drop for a return address

    * Operating out of a residence

    * Masquerading as a federal agency

    * Time pressure

    * Unusual requests for personal information

    * Notification by phone

    * High success rates

    * Excessive hype

    * Disguised advertising

    * A newly-formed company

    * A Florida or California address

    “There could be some companies that provide good service,” Bartle said. He wants to discourage students from paying for information.

    Several places are available for students to get free financial aid information. BYU’s Financial Aid Office has books with scholarship information.

    The Harold B. Lee Library also has many books on financial aid, most of which are located at the social sciences reference desk. Public libraries also offer much of the same information.

    Hill tested a free Internet scholarship service. He was then connected to another site that sent information to his home along with a bill for $40.

    The first site was as subsidiary of the second. Even some of the employees Hill spoke with said the site was deceiving.

    The Scholarship Scam Alert website states, “If you must pay money to get money, it might be a scam.”

    According to the website, “The Federal Trade Commission has initiated a two-thrusted offensive against scholarship scams.” The FTC had filed charges against five companies that are alleged to have engaged in deceptive scholarship schemes.

    Secondly, the FTC has started a campaign to inform parents and students to help them identify scams. The project is called Project $cholar$cam (Scholarscam). Consumer education information kits can be received by writing to Federal Trade Commission, P.O. Box 996, Washington, D.C. 20580, or send e-mail to .

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