The lure of free money can turn even the smartest student or parent into a gullible victim of college scholarships scams. After all, a college scholarship may just tip the scales in your favor when it comes time to pick a school and pay for it. Unfortunately, with very few rules or guidelines, the private student scholarships business is full of swindlers. Illegitimate programs take advantage of the loose rules surrounding award criteria, timetables, application procedures, and decision-making processes and when it comes to getting their mitts on your money, it’s game on!

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For every ten students who receive legitimate undergraduate scholarships, there’s one who falls prey to a scam.

College scholarships: What to look for

Fraudulent college scholarship offers come in pretty packages, posing as legitimate foundations, scholarship sponsors, or scholarship search services. These businesses advertise in campus newspapers, distribute flyers, mail letters and postcards, provide toll-free numbers, and even have university scholarships sites on the Web. Some of the more obvious frauds operate as scholarship search services or clearinghouses, and the least obvious are often set up as an illegitimate scholarship sponsor.

It may be hard to imagine how an agency that plans to give you money can actually take it away from you, but it’s really quite simple. Most of these scammers pocket money from fees they charge you and thousands of other hopeful student scholarships seekers, but give out little or nothing in proportion to the amount they collect. In the worst case scenarios, hopeful students are conned into giving out their credit card or checking account numbers, leaving them vulnerable to getting seriously ripped off through unauthorized withdrawals.

College scholarships: The DIY approach

In spite of the existence of illegitimate programs, there are legitimate undergraduate scholarships search services that charge a small fee. However, since they cannot honestly guarantee you a scholarship, you’re better off doing your own legwork using a reliable scholarship information source. Better yet, try using a free scholarship search service, which offers access to millions of scholarships — without charging you a dime!

There are lots of wonderful college scholarships out there. You simply need to spend the time and effort required to locate and apply for them. Just remember: if anyone asks for your money, check them out thoroughly!