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Applying for College Aid is Free: Buyer Beware of Services Offering Help

Experts say there is plenty of free help available for students and parents as they apply for federal financial aid for college. (Larry Miller/Flickr)
Experts say there is plenty of free help available for students and parents as they apply for federal financial aid for college. (Larry Miller/Flickr)
February 5, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Applying for college can be daunting enough. Add to that the pressures of finding the financial aid available and many students and parents can feel overwhelmed. Experts say those feelings are what scammers and unscrupulous businesses are preying on during this time of year.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step to getting money for the majority of students, and while it costs nothing to apply, Mallory Wojciechowski, spokeswoman with the Better Business Bureau, says you should exercise precautions when using online search engines.

"A lot of people will go to what they believe is a FAFSA website, and when they go to it a scam artist has actually set up a phony website," says Wojciechowski. "And to make sure that you are actually on that legitimate website, because you may think you're doing it on your own and you're actually not on the correct website."

The federal help center at FAFSA.gov offers free online support. The BBB says when you complete your application, make sure to log out and close the browser when you're finished. Keep personal documents and receipts in a secure place and don't share your FAFSA PIN number with anyone.

Some financial aid services are asking more than $1,000 to offer assistance in finding money for college. The Better Business Bureau says to beware of companies asking for up-front money, and use caution when entering personal information on websites. Wojciechowski says you have the tools you need at your fingertips.

"You should not have to pay for assistance in finding money for college," she says. "There are so many free websites that you can turn to for guidance."

The BBB says it's important to note that if an organization is charging fees for financial aid advice or application assistance, they are not committing fraud unless they don't deliver what is promised. If you suspect you are a victim of fraud or identity theft, experts advise you to contact the U.S. Department of Education and the Federal Trade Commission.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN