How to Recognize a College Financial Aid "Scam"

The financial aid process is no stranger to scams, frauds... even theft.

That's because the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) contains sensitive personal and financial details... and lots of it.

Of course, that's the last thing you need to worry about when trying to get money to pay for college.

Here are some insights into today's most prevalent FAFSA scams... so you'll know what to avoid if you see them.

The Numbers: They're Yours, So Keep Them To Yourself
First off, there are reputable companies out there that can be of great assistance with your FAFSA as well as the rest of the college admissions and financial aid process (we're one of them). But it's important to be very cautious about companies that offer this kind of help - especially when it appears their mission is to solely get your credit card number.

If you're on a website that immediately asks you for credit card information, close your browser and never return. Chances are, you just brushed up against a scam. Make sure you do a simple search with the Better Business Bureau to ensure it's a legitimate company and not a scam before you choose to give out any personal and financial information to anyone.

The First Thing To Know When Filling Out Your FAFSA Online
Be sure to avoid choosing an obvious four-digit PIN number. Anything that could be easily researched or guessed by a stranger - a birthday, for instance, or the end of a phone number - makes for a very poor PIN.

What's more, a poor PIN makes for potentially easy "data publishing" by people who know you're about to enter college. It's easy to guess that you'll have a FAFSA application out there - be sure not to make the access easy to guess as well.

Watch Out For Uninitiated Follow-Ups
As I mentioned, sophisticated scammers know when there's a college-bound kid in a household. And often times they'll take calculated gambles with that information.

That means they'll send official-seeming emails asking for further information (real emails will have actual account information and won't ask for personal information).

It seems rather obvious but bears repeating: If you have any question over whether an email is legitimate or not, don't click any links. Rather, simply type the web site address into your browser and see if there are any issues when you get to your application.

Beware FAFSA "Imposters"
Scammers have also been known to place calls posing as FAFSA officials.

Again, legitimate communications from the Department of Education will never ask for personal information, so remember not to give any information out over the phone or by email. If there's a real need to address an issue on your application, you can correct the problem by initiating contact with a legitimate official.