With stories of data breaches and identity theft continuing to pop up, it’s important to look at another popular scam: college financial aid fraud.
Students are at risk of having their personal information taken by criminals, or simply falling for a service they don’t need to shell out the big bucks for.
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. There are zero costs to apply – it only takes your time. There are also plenty of free resources to help you fill it out. Applications can (and should) be filled out at fafsa.gov.
What To Watch Out For
The number one thing you should be on the lookout for is any service that requires a fee for your FAFSA application. You should not have to pay anyone for filling this form out, plus it can be dangerous sharing personal details with these companies.
The FTC has a list of red flags for FAFSA and other financial aid scams:
- Any service boasting “exclusive” information you can’t get anywhere else
- A request for your bank or credit card information in exchange for holding a scholarship
- Any guarantee of a scholarship
- Processing fees
- A notice you’ve been selected by a national committee, or are a finalist in a contest you did not enter
- A request for your checking account number to determine eligibility
Never give your FAFSA pin to any service, and do research on any company you plan to work with. This should be through research that goes beyond the first couple hits you get in your search results.
Where To Get Trustworthy Information
While it helps to know what to watch out for, it also helps to know what sources you can trust. Here are some ideas:
- Get information from the Financial Aid Office at your college
- Talk to your high school guidance counselor
- Visit the Federal Student Aid Information Center
- Ask about your state’s grant agency
- Visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Free Scholarship Search