Since June, 43 scam calls were reported, a federal official said.
OU Financial Aid Services: scams becoming common
The OU Financial Aid Services is warning students of possible scams when searching and applying for scholarships, loans and grants.
Recently, false companies have been contacting students by phone and e-mail with financial aid offers which require students to release their bank account numbers and credit information.
Students should also be skeptical of scholarship search services and financial aid consultants who request payment, according to OU Financial Aid Services.
Jane Glickman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said in an e-mail that 43 scam calls have been counted from e-mails from June through January 2005.
A recent financial aid scam involves students receiving calls from people claiming to be employees of the U.S. Department of Education, said Judi Voeller, associate director of client services at OU Financial Aid Services.
These callers ask students if they have a federal loan, specifically a Stafford or Perkins loan, and then offer to replace the loan with an $8,000 grant, Voeller said.
A Stafford Loan is a type of federal student aid that is either subsidized or unsubsidized. A Federal Perkins Loan is a low-interest loan for both undergraduate and graduate students with financial need.
The caller tells the students all they have to do is pay a processing fee and provide bank account information. Bradley Burnett, director of OU Financial Aid Services, said this is extremely dangerous.
"If somebody that you're not familiar with is asking you for your bank account information, I would proceed with caution," he said.
Burnett said it is imperative that students never give out their bank account information or Social Security number over the phone or Internet unless they initiate the communication and are certain they talking to a credible organization. He also said financial aid scams such as this are common.
"It's been going on for at least the last 15 years, but it's gotten much, much worse with the advent of the Internet," Burnettsaid.
He said even if a student is not asked for bank account information or a Social Security number, they may be asked to pay money in order to apply for aid.
Courtney Johnson, social studies education junior, said he is all too familiar with this trend. He said that when he first came to OU in 2000, he was in need of financial aid and searched the Internet for help. He was surprised when a scholarship search service asked him for money before helping him.
"They tell you to put in your information and then they'll send you a note telling you they found these scholarships you're qualified to get," he said. "They tell you to send them money and they'll send you the ones you're qualified for."
He said the service asked as much as $49.95 for each scholarship he qualified for, but he did not continue because he thought it was unfair to pay for scholarships he might not receive.
Burnett said students should be careful, like Johnson was, when it comes to paying for scholarship searches.
"If somebody is asking you to pay for a scholarship search you ought to be leery," he said.
New students like Johnson are often targets in scholarship scams, Burnett said.
"One of the reasons they prey on freshmen is because they don't know enough to be afraid," Burnett said.
Greg Archbald, energy management and finance senior, said he has learned just to ignore e-mails from scholarship organizations that do not seem legitimate to him.
"It's kind of something that comes with experience," he said.
Burnett said there are many occasions on which students and parents have been led to believe they need to pay for these services. With the deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) around the corner, he said students need to be careful if applying online.
The official FAFSA Web site is www.fafsa.ed.gov, which is maintained by the Department of Education. However, Burnett said many students mistakenly use www.fafsa.com, which asks students to pay as much as $79.99 to submit and track their FAFSA, whereas the government Web site does not charge a fee.
Burnett said he also wants students to realize they do not need to pay for services like financial aid consultation. In some cases he said families are being charged $100 or more for help in finding aid and filling out the necessary forms, he said. He said counselors are available for free through the university for this purpose.
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