Tuition and fees keep rising every year and scholarship dollars can be hard to come by - it's no surprise that scholarship fraud is on the rise as well. In fact, people taken in by scholarship scams lose a total of $100 million annually, according to the college planning site FinAid.org. The good news, according to the Michigan Association of CPAs, is that there are steps you can take to avoid these scholarship scams.

Question All Fees
As a general rule, you should not have to pay an application fee to qualify for a college scholarship or an education loan. Sometimes parents are taken in by non-existent scholarships that require a fee to be paid with the application. They pay the fees and then later assume that their child just didn't qualify.

The Federal Trade Commission, which has studied scholarship scams, explains that some legitimate companies may charge fees to search for scholarship information. If fees are required, find out in advance what they cover and when, and if, refunds are available. Get this information in writing before handing over any money, even a small amount. Be wary of programs that request fees claiming to “handle all the paperwork for you.” Legitimate scholarships generally require the student or parents to file the application, so this claim is a red flag that the offer could be a scam.

Ask for Help
Have doubts about any scholarship or funding program? Consult your child’s high school guidance counselor or another financial aid expert to get some feedback. In some cases, even a legitimate scholarship advisory group may offer to sell parents information about funding opportunities, but experts in the field may be able to guide you to the same information for free.

Don’t Believe in “Guarantees”
Legitimate scholarship programs don't guarantee that anyone will qualify for any of their offerings. If a group does promise that you will receive funds, it’s probably not a trustworthy organization. Be careful, too, if there is a lot of hype surrounding the scholarship or if you are pressed to apply immediately in order to qualify.

Don’t Share Personal Information
A legitimate scholarship program should not require you to share your credit card or bank account number or any other financial information. Scam artists, on the other hand, may tell you that they need your personal data to confirm you’re eligible. They can then use this information to help themselves to funds from your bank account, run up bills on your credit card or commit identity theft.

Consult the Experts
Websites such as

www.FinAid.org and www.collegeparents.org can help you learn more about securing the education funds you need without falling victim to a scholarship scam. Also, your local CPA can offer expert advice on the best ways to pay for those high college tuition payments. Whether you have young children and want to begin planning early or you are looking for ways to cover a teenager’s looming tuition costs, a CPA can help. Consult with him or her with questions on these and any other of your family’s financial issues.

You seek the expertise of CPAs at tax and audit time, of course. But CPAs also promote personal and professional financial security year round. Visit the CPA Referral Service on the MACPA website to search for a CPA in your geographical area or specific area of expertise. This article was submitted by the Michigan Association of CPAs (www.michcpa.org).