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When you’re burdened with heaps of debt, it can feel like you’re underwater and drowning. You might not be able to get a good night’s rest and you may spend all of your waking hours thinking about how you’re going to pay off your personal debts, especially if you’ve been the victim of downsizing or an injury that keeps you from working. That’s why, at desperate times like these, you’ll take a life preserver from anyone who offers.

Sadly, many of these so-called debt relief services promise to rescue you and then abandon you when your need is at its greatest. The scams typically go like this: you get a call or an email promising to help you negotiate your debts down or reach a settlement with your creditors. They usually ask for a big fee up front and then never deliver on any of their promises, leaving debtor’s high and dry and in an even worse situation than before they got “help.”

So, if you find yourself struggling with debt and are looking for help, here’s what to look for to avoid getting scammed. By law, these companies are not allowed to charge you a fee before they’ve actually helped you, either by settling or reducing your debts. They are also forbidden from making false claims and they also must give you vital information you need to determine whether you should use their services.

As an alternative, an attorney may be able to offer debt relief services and help you avoid common scams.