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Student Financial Aid Resources and the Internet – A few caveats about internet use can reduce your risk of falling victim to identity theft or scholarship fraud. What every student should know.

There are a plethora of internet sites touting their financial aid prowess. As in all things related to internet usage, seeking financial aid information and advice via the internet required a critical eye. One enormous red flag is a request for payment for filing your FAFSA for you, or for providing you with scholarship information. Neither process should have a fee attached to it; so caveat emptor. The best places to search for reliable and up to date information are from sites that offer the service free of charge, or directly from the government agency or scholarship donor involved.

Each state has a higher education agency that can give you important information about state aid in the state you live. Americorps is an underused federal program that can help students pay for current education related expenses or to repay educational loans. Go to www.americorps.org for the details. The U.S. Armed Forces offers financial aid for its service members and their families in some instances. Some programs are recruitment incentives, others are earned benefits. Contacting the U.S. Department of Defense’s www.todaysmilitary.com will take you to detailed information on college help. It is common to require a copy of your previous years’ income taxes for financial aid purposes. Also, you or your aren’t may be interested in accessing information on the Hope Tax Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit or the Student Loan Interest Deduction. A visit to www.irs.gov can give you access to information to these programs and to information on how to secure a copy of your tax return from previous years.

As a student seeking funds for college, you are likely to do a scholarship search online. While many scholarship databases are excellent resources, some are, simply put, a scam. So many precious dollars have been lost to scams that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has issues the following warnings signs to look for to scholarship seekers:

  1. Does the scholarship promise a “guarantee or your money back”?
  2. Does it boast that you can’t “get this information anywhere else”?
  3. Are you asked for your bank or credit card information “to hold this scholarship for you”?
  4. Are you being told you’re a “winner” or a “finalist” in a contest you did not enter?

Any of the above is a serious warning sign. You should file a report with the FTC if you feel you have been a victim of a fraud or scam. You can also verify the validity of a claim on the internet with the FTC at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0082-scholarship-and-financial-aid-scams.

Because the financial aid application process involves divulging private personal and financial information, it is the perfect breeding ground for identity theft. Wide-eyed students and parents, anxious to complete the lengthy and often frustrating application process might become blasé about handing over information that should remain secure. While providing such information, such as social security numbers and birthdates are required on the FAFSA and other legitimate applications, you need to remain vigilant about to whom you disclose your private data. You can help prevent identity theft by adopting some “safe computing” habits.

  1. Remember to completely log off of any internet session especially when using a public access computer.
  2. Keep your Student Aid Report and any financial aid documents away from view, preferably locked up or in a secure email account.
  3. Never give anyone your PIN, or allow your PIN to be accessed.
  4. Promptly destroy and dispose of any credit card offers you receive in your email or your postal mail box.
  5. Never give personal information to anyone over the phone or via the internet unless you have initiated the contact and you have verified their authenticity

By keeping your information secure you are participating in an important part of the security net that the Department of Education has in place to protect your private information. Your participation helps them keep you safe from fraud and identity theft.

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