Before you apply for financial aid, learn how to spot potential fraud, avoid paying for free services, and prevent identity theft.
Save Your Money:
Save Your Identity:
Report Fraud and Identity Theft:
Save Your Money
Commercial financial aid advice services can cost well over $1,000. Now, simply charging for help or information that's available for free elsewhere is not fraudulent. However, if a company doesn't deliver what it promises, it's scamming you.
If you're unsure whether to pay a company for help finding financial aid, stop and think for a minute: What's being offered? Is the service going to be worth your money? Do the claims seem too good to be true? 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.
- Types of Federal Student Aid
- other federal agencies
- a college or career school financial aid office
- a high school or TRIO counselor
- your state grant agency
- the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search
- your library’s reference section
- foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups
- organizations (including professional associations) related to your field of interest
- ethnicity-based organizations
- your employer or your parents’ employers
- the Federal Student Aid Information Center
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 fafsa.gov, and you can get free help from
- the financial aid office at your college or the college(s) you’re thinking about attending;
- the FAFSA’s online help at fafsa.gov; and
- 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!
Save Your Identity
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.
- Apply for federal student aid by filling out the FAFSA at fafsa.gov.
- 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 FSA ID, 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 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, ask your college or contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center.
- 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 (e.g., the credit card company or your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles) and to the police, if appropriate.
We care about the privacy of your personal information. The information you share with us via our secure websites (such as fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.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 we do our part to keep your information safe—but you need to do yours as well.
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, contact the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
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.
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
- Federal Trade Commission
- Social Security Administration
- Equifax Credit Bureau
- Experian Information Solutions
- TransUnion Credit Bureau