Save Your Money, Save Your Identity: How Financial Aid Applicants Can Avoid Fraud and Identity Theft

Save Your Money Don’t Pay for Help to Find Money for College

Commercial financial aid advice services can cost well over $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. We’ve provided a list of free sources 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. For tips on avoiding identity theft, see “Save Your Identity.”

Don’t Pay for the FAFSA

Several Web sites 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 is provided free elsewhere. The official FAFSA is at www.fafsa.ed.gov, and you can get free help from

  • the financial aid administrator at your college
  • the FAFSA’s online help at www.fafsa.ed.gov

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!

How Does Identity Theft Happen?

Criminals gain access to personal data such as names, Social Security numbers, and bank and credit card information. Using the stolen data, the criminal can fraudulently obtain credit cards, establish cellular phone accounts, and more.

Reduce Your Risk When Applying for Aid

  • 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 applied for and awarded.
  • Never give personal information over the phone or Internet unless you made the contact. If you have questions about a solicitation or about your student loan account, call 1-800-4-FED-AID.
  • Federal Student Aid securely stores your information on the National Student Loan Data System. 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.
  • Shred receipts and documents with personal information if they are no longer needed.
  • Immediately report all lost or stolen identification to the issuer and to the police, if appropriate.

Report Fraud and Identity Theft

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, call the Federal Trade Commission toll free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or go to www.ftc.gov/scholarshipscams.

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:

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General Hotline
1-800-MIS-USED (1-800-647-8733)
Complain online: www.ed.gov/misused

Federal Trade Commission
1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338)
Complain online: www.ftc.gov/idtheft