This is the time of year high school students start finalizing their college plans, and hunting for financial aid.
Unfortunately, questionable companies are lurking every step of the way, offering to help, but in many cases just taking your hard earned money.
Smart Radio Host Gets Confused
Andy Furman is a smart guy. He's a cigar aficionado and a nationally syndicated radio sports talk host.
But even this savvy guy failed to spot a look-alike website, when looking for financial aid for his college bound son.
Furman explains "the school said go to the website FAFSA.gov. I had no idea there was another website. When I Googled for FAFSA.gov I got FAFSA.com instead."
FAFSA is short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Did you catch the word "free?" Furman, like so many eager parents, did not.
"I was hit with a charge for $118 for services, when I was told by the university it should be a free site," he said.
Sites like FAFSA.com and FAFSA-application.com are not scams, and are legitimate companies. But they are charging you for something you don't need to pay for, the government says.
The Better Business Bureau gives the company behind FAFSA.com an A Plus rating, as it is an accredited member, and provides a disclaimer saying it is not a government site. Its standard fee for helping parents search for loans is $79, according to the BBB.
However, consumers have filed more than 200 complaints against the site with the BBB in the past 3 years.
Beware Test Prep Websites
A couple of years ago, Shellie Litzinger told me she fell for another questionable website.
She paid $119 for a SAT and ACT test prep kit, after a caller said her daughter signed up for it. But her daughter had never heard of the program, let alone agreed to buy it.
"She said there was no such thing. She didn't go to a fair at school, and never asked for information," Litzinger said.
The government says says parents need to watch for websites targeting teens headed for college. It says there is no need to pay for information you can get free.
Andy Furman asked for his money back. "I ain't paying it. I ain't paying it," he said. Furman was able to get a refund for what he paid.
Again, there is nothing illegal or wrong with what these websites are doing. But you can often get the same info free so you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.
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