University

FAFSA help sites scam undergraduate students

Students who fill out their FAFSA form too quickly or carelessly could find themselves victims of a website scam that preys on undergraduates.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a paperwork requirement for all students attempting to receive financial aid.

Websites like FAFSA.com or FAFSAOnline.com offer the ability for students to fill out the forms that would otherwise be free on the official FAFSA website, for an $80 fee.

“We’re well aware of those types of websites,” said Kirk Yats, director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. “Everything we communicate to students, both on and off the website, we reference to the official FAFSA website.”

A plethora of FAFSA “help-sites” are available online, and many are listed in a warning section of the OSFA website. However, the websites appear and disappear at such a steady rate that it makes it difficult to warn students of specific sites.

“The problem is they’re hard to track,” Yats said. “As a general rule of thumb, we tell students to never pay for financial assistance. It’s all available for free on the FAFSA.gov website.”

Like the name implies, the actual FAFSA has zero service fees unlike the financial help sites. It is funded by the United States government through the Department of Education and, according to the website, processes more than 21 million submissions each year.

The application process can seem complicated to many but has been largely simplified both in part by the government and through tips posted on the CMU website.

“FAFSA.gov has edits built into it that will walk students through the process,” Yats said. “These edits will help clarify things and assist students as they fill out their information. It helps improve the initial accuracy of the FAFSA form.”

CMU also does its part to help students by offering step-by-step instructionals and a list of tips to avoid mistakes. A new service offered through the OSFA, FAFSA Fridays, is also available.

“We reserve the fourth floor of the library and sit down to help students either there or in the office here in Warriner,” Yats said. “You don’t have to be a CMU student either. We just want to help both current and prospective students through the process.”

Despite the efforts to help students properly and completely fill out the FAFSA form, there continues to be a large number of mistakes each year. According to Yats, some of the biggest mistakes can be something as simple as mistyping a Social Security number.

“The biggest problems we find during the processing of FAFSA paperwork is entering the wrong federal income tax paid amount,” Yats said. “Listing an incorrect Social Security number or driver’s license number can also be problematic. It just delays the registration process.”

As for the website scam, the options for solutions are limited. The OSFA works directly with high school counselors and other advisors to make sure students are using the correct information.

“We’ve had our fair share of complaints,” Yates said. “It’s misleading to create those types of websites that undermine the official website. We do just about all we can to warn students in as many different ways as we can.”

One Comment

  1. The federal government authorizes 2 options for preparing a federal student aid application. Students may complete the FAFSA on the U.S. Department of Education’s website at no cost, or trust a professional, fee-based FAFSA preparation for assistance, just like getting help with income taxes. Using a professional, fee-based service can help students prepare their aid application on time and accurately.

    Information about FAFSA filing options is here:

    http://www.fafsa.com/understanding-fafsa/fafsa-filing-options

    Speed and accuracy are essential when preparing a FAFSA. Accuracy is important because FAFSA errors can reduce aid awards. Most aid is provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

    While financial aid is largely awarded on a first come, first served basis, the states of Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington are telling students that aid – especially need-based grants – will go quickly because state funds are limited because of the economic recession of the past three years. State grant aid for undergraduate students has dropped about 2 percent from five years ago, according to the National Association of State Student Grant Aid Administrators. The downward trend is expected to continue. Other states with early deadlines are Oregon Feb. 1st, Connecticut Feb. 15th; Rhode Island, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Idaho March 1st; and California March 2nd. Besides state deadlines, students also must have their FAFSAs processed before the deadlines at each college they have applied to.

    - MFallon, Student Financial Aid Services’ communications consultant

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