Avoid scams while applying for financial aid

10/6/2017

The college financial aid season is back.

And students can begin filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid for the 2018-19 academic year. It’s important to fill out the FAFSA, which is used to determine student financial aid eligibility, as early as possible.

But as students and their families wade through their financial options, it’s also important to watch for scams that target the college-bound.

“Unfortunately, there are quite a few scams out there,” says Denise Burmeister, director of strategic partnerships at Student Choice.

Use this guide to know which scholarship and financial aid “offers” to avoid:

Charge fee for FAFSA

Many websites have been designed to look like the real FAFSA site, except the user is charged a fee to complete the application. Never pay the fee, Burmeister cautions.

“It was designed by the Department of Education to take 15 to 20 minutes, and it’s designed so any family is able to sit down with their tax information and complete it on their own,” she says. “Just remember it’s the free application. It should always be free.”

If you have questions about the online form, go directly to the FAFSA website or talk to the financial aid office of the college or university you are considering.

Guaranteed scholarship or financial aid

Any claim of guaranteed scholarship money or financial aid also is a big red flag.

“Sometimes scammers will claim, ‘We’ll help you complete your FAFSA and also guarantee you financial aid,” Burmeister says.

Legitimate companies never guarantee scholarships or financial aid, she says.

Charge a fee for scholarships

Avoid applying for any scholarship that charges an application fee or a redemption fee. Other unscrupulous companies charge applicants a fee to send them a list of scholarships to apply for.

“The family pays, and the scammer goes to Google and finds 10 scholarships that may or may not be relevant and sends it to them in the mail,” Burmeister says. “That’s something the family could have done themselves.”

To find reputable scholarships—which cost nothing and don’t have to be repaid—use these legitimate scholarship search engines.

“Those links from the Dupaco website are the best ones out there,” Burmeister says.

Don’t forget …

When you apply for financial aid, you’re submitting confidential information. Always make sure you’re on the official, secure website to safeguard your private information. And never give out personal information to someone who initiates contact with you.

“You should be initiating that call,” Burmeister says.

Also keep tabs on your credit to make sure nothing is amiss during and after the financial aid season. With Dupaco’s Bright Track credit score monitoring service, you have free access to both your credit report and credit score within Shine Online and Mobile Banking.

If you suspect you’ve responded to a scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.