Is it a free scholarship? Or a scam?

A scholarship or grant is free money - you should never have to pay for one. Watch out for companies that make generous scholarship promises, charge you money to apply for or receive a scholarship, try to get you to send money by claiming you're a finalist in a scholarship contest, or request your credit card or bank account number to hold a scholarship or grant for you. Also be wary of free seminars that turn into high-pressure sales pitches for financial aid information that's readily available for free. Reputable companies neither guarantee scholarships nor use agressive tactics.

Here are more tips:

Do your own research before spending your money. Most scholarship information is available for free, whether from your school, on the Internet or in the library. If you choose to pay a scholarship search service, be sure you understand what you're paying for.

Don't fall for claims that "guarantee" a scholarship. Any claim should include qualifications or disclaimers.

Scholarships are free money. Never give your credit card information, bank account information or Social Security number to hold a scholarship or grant.

Learn more at www.ftc.gov/scholarshipscams and www.fraud.org, or read the brochure, Looking for Student Aid, available at www.studentaid.ed.gov/lsa or by calling 800.433.3243. If you believe you've been a victim of scholarship fraud, call the California Attorney General's office toll free at 800.952.5225 or fax a letter to 916.323.5341