'TIS THE season for stockings, car commercials, wish lists, egg nog and scammers.

With the student financial-aid application season beginning soon, state officials are reminding students and families that they may be contacted by individuals or companies via email, social media or traditional mail, offering assistance in securing scholarship money for a fee.

Some of the organizations are legitimate; others are not.

Families can avoid scams by looking out for misleading sales pitches, including:

* Companies seeking an up-front fee without first providing conditions for a refund.

* Claims by some companies that they have exclusive information from scholarship databases for a fee.

* Requests to send money to "hold" an award by claiming the student is a "finalist" in a scholarship contest.

* Free scholarship or "financial planning" seminars that end with a pitch to "act now or lose out on this opportunity" for a fee.

For more information, go to www.PHEAA.org/FAFSA or www.fafsa.gov. Families are encouraged to report suspected scams to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP.

- Michael Hinkelman