Avoiding Scams

Avoiding Scams

Avoid scams while searching for scholarships, filling out the FAFSA, and giving personal information to schools and lenders.

Concerned you’re the victim of a scam? We’ll tell you how to file a complaint.

Before you apply for financial aid, learn how to spot potential fraud, avoid paying for free services and prevent identity theft.

Commercial financial aid advice services can cost more than $1,000. You might have heard or seen these claims at seminars, over the phone from telemarketers, or online:

  • "Buy now or miss this opportunity." Don’t give in to pressure tactics. Remember, the "opportunity" is a chance to pay for information you could find yourself for free. Check out our list of free sources of financial aid information below.
  • "We guarantee you’ll get aid." A company could claim it fulfilled its promise if you were offered student loans or a $200 scholarship. Is that worth a fee of $1,000 or more?
  • "I've got aid for you; give me your credit card or bank account number." Never give out a credit card or bank account number unless you know the organization you are giving it to is legitimate. You could be putting yourself at risk of identity theft.
  • Free Sources of Financial Aid Information

    Don't pay for FAFSA
    Several websites offer help filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for a fee. These sites are not affiliated with or endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. We urge you not to pay these sites for assistance that you can get for free elsewhere. The official FAFSA is at www.fafsa.gov, and you can get free help from

    • the Office of Financial Aid at your college or the college(s) you’re thinking about attending
    • the FAFSA’s online help at www.fafsa.gov
    • the Federal Student Aid Information Center.

    If you are asked for your credit card information while filling out the FAFSA online, you are not at the official government site. Remember, the FAFSA site address has .gov in it!

    Identity Theft
    Identity theft happens when criminals access personal data such as names, Social Security numbers, and bank and credit card information. Using the stolen data, the criminal can illegally obtain credit cards, set up cellphone accounts and more.

    Reduce your risk when applying for aid:

    • Apply for federal student aid by filling out the FAFSA.
    • After completing the FAFSA online, exit the application and close the browser; any cookies created during your session will be deleted automatically.
    • Don’t tell anyone your Federal Student Aid PIN, even if that person is helping you fill out the FAFSA.
    • Review your financial aid award documents and keep track of the amounts you applied for and received.
    • Never give personal information out over the phone or Internet unless you made the contact. If you have questions about an offer of aid or about your student loan account, contact the Office of Financial Aid or the Federal Student Aid Information Center.
    • You information is securely stored within the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS®) and have access to it on My Federal Student Aid. However, if you complete or even request a student loan application from a lender, you may be granting the lender permission to access your file. Before providing personal information to an organization, review its privacy policy.
    • Keep receipts and documents (for example, credit applications or offers, checks and bank statements) with personal information in a safe place, and shred them when you are finished with them.
    • Keep your purse or wallet safe at all times; store it and other items containing personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates.
    • Immediately report all lost or stolen identification to the issuer (the credit card company or your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles) and to the police, if appropriate.

    How to keep your information safe
    We care about the privacy of your personal information. The information you share with us via our secure websites (such as www.fafsa.gov and www.pin.ed.gov) goes through a process called encryption. Encryption uses a mathematical formula to scramble your data into a format that is unreadable to a hacker. This is how the government aids in keeping your information safe.

    Report Identity Theft and Fraud

    Remember: A company charging for financial aid advice is not committing fraud unless it doesn’t deliver what it promises. For more information about financial aid fraud or to report fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission.

    Reporting Fraudulent activity by a college:
    Contact the Inspector General’s Hotline if:

    • you suspect your school of fraud, waste, or abuse involving federal student aid (Federal Pell Grants, Direct Loans, etc.), or
    • you believe that someone at the school has misrepresented any aspect of the educational program, its cost, or its outcome.

    Report Identity Theft:
    If you suspect that your student information has been stolen, it is important to act quickly. These offices will help you determine what steps to take depending on your situation:

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