Scam of the day – June 18, 2017 – Identity thieves hack Federal Student Aid website

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a part of the U.S. Department of Education used by college students to apply for much needed financial aid to assist them in furthering their education.  Some of the forms used in the application process require inserting information from past income tax returns.  To make the process more convenient, FAFSA provided for a data retrieval service directly to the IRS to obtain the necessary information, however scammers, such as two recently indicted men from Indiana and Georgia are alleged to have hacked into the data retrieval system of FAFSA applicants to get the tax information which they then used to commit income tax identity theft, attempting to steal approximately 12.7 million dollars in phony income tax refunds.

In response to these problems, FAFSA suspended its data retrieval system until two weeks ago when they reinstituted the Data Retrieval Tool with the IRS in a manner that the tax return information will be encrypted and hidden from view of even the borrower as well as someone hacking into the borrower’s account.

TIPS

Quite often, as Shakespeare said, the fault is not in the stars, the fault is in ourselves. Too often we become victims of identity theft when the security of particular websites, companies or government agencies that have our personal data is compromised because we provide our passwords and user names to identity thieves by falling prey to spear phishing emails or downloading malware.   It is important to never click on a link in an email or download an attachment unless you have confirmed that it is legitimate.  Also, never provide personal information to anyone unless you have confirmed that the request is legitimate.

As for students seeking to use the Data Retrieval Tool of the IRS for filing a FAFSA form, you can safely use this service by going to StudentLoans.gov.

Scam of the day – March 16, 2017 – IRS temporarily removes FAFSA-Autofill tool

If you are a college student, a parent of a college student or a parent of a high school student considering attending college, you are familiar with the online FAFSA form.  FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and it is a form used by the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid to determine eligibility for billions of dollars of federal grants, loans and work-study funds for college students.

The FAFSA form can be completed online and until recently contained an Autofill tool that enabled someone filling in the form to have specific financial information from their previous income tax returns automatically retrieved by the IRS and entered in the form thereby making the application process simpler and easier.  However, the IRS is now suspending the data retrieval feature on the FAFSA form due to concern about security and potential identity theft.  The IRS is estimating that it may take several weeks to remedy the problem.  Until then, anyone filling in a FAFSA form will need their previous income tax returns in order to insert the information required to complete the form.

TIPS

Anyone filling in a FAFSA form at this time will need to get the income tax information necessary to complete the form from hard copies of their income tax returns or from the software used to complete their income tax returns.  If an applicant has neither a hard copy nor a digital record of his or her income tax returns, he or she can obtain a transcript of past federal income tax returns from from the IRS.  Here is a link to information about how to obtain copies of past tax returns from the IRS.

https://www.irs.gov/uac/newsroom/how-do-i-get-my-tax-transcript

Everyone should keep copies of past income tax returns, but you should not store them on the hard drive of your computer because storing them on your computer makes you susceptible to identity theft in the event that your computer is hacked.  Rather you should store this data either in the cloud or on a portable hard drive.

Scam of the day – August 7, 2015 – Student financial aid scam

Anyone who has ever applied for a student loan for college expenses is familiar with FAFSA, the Free Application for Student Aid, which is operated by the United States Department of Education.  The office of Federal Student Aid is the largest issuer of financial aid to students in the country through grants, loans and work-study programs.  All colleges use the FAFSA form and it is a primary resource for any student or the parent of any student seeking to find money to cover college expenses.  The office of Federal Student Aid interactive website www.fafsa.ed.gov is a tremendously useful website.  However, scammers operating a company with the name Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. set up a number of websites including FAFSA.com taking advantage of consumer confusion over the name and offering fee-based assistance to students filling out the FAFSA form.  According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), when students entered their payment information for certain financial advisory services, the company started billing them for annual renewing subscriptions at costs of between $67 and $85 per year without the students’ knowledge.   According to the  CFPB more than 100,000 students were cheated out of more than 5 million dollars, which now, according to the terms of the settlement will be returned to the victims of the scam.

TIPS

Before paying for help with the FAFSA form, it is always a good idea to take advantage of the free help found at www.fafsa.ed.gov the official FAFSA website of the federal government. Financial aid is a complex matter and students and their families should familiarize themselves with the information available on the real website of the office of Federal Student Aid in order to be an informed consumer.  The settlement with Student Financial Aid Services, Inc.  is still awaiting court approval.  As soon as it is approved, I will let you know about what you need to do to get your check if you were a victim of this particular scam.

Scam of the day – February 22, 2013 – College financial aid scam

Anyone who has ever applied for a student loan for college expenses is familiar with FAFSA, the Free Application for Student Aid, which is operated by the United States Department of Education.  The office of Federal Student Aid is the largest issuer of financial aid to students in the country through grants, loans and work-study programs.  All colleges use the FAFSA form and it is a primary resource for any student or the parent of any student seeking to find money to cover college expenses.  The office of Federal Student Aid interactive website www.fafsa.ed.gov is a tremendously useful website.  However, scammers take advantage of the fact that we all, at one time or another type incorrect URLs into our web browsers.  An Indiana sheriff’s office reported earlier this week that a high school student made the mistake of logging into a website that he thought was that of the office of Federal Student Aid, but inadvertently typed .com at the end of the URL and went to a website that appeared to help identify college aid funds, but charged an $80 fee for their services which provided  services that the student could have gotten for free at the real website of www.fafsa.ed.gov.  Many scammers take advantage of students and their parents by selling services through which they promise to locate grants and scholarships.  Many times they do absolutely nothing and other times they do nothing that the student and his or her family could not do on their own at no cost.

TIPS

Always make sure when you are typing in a URL that you are typing in the correct address because scammers often create websites with URL’s that are remarkably similar to the real URLs, but may contain a small, common typographical error.  They then take advantage of people who do not realize with whom they are really dealing.  Financial aid is a complex matter and students and their families should familiarize themselves with the information available on the real website of the office of Federal Student Aid in order to be an informed consumer.