Beware college financial aid scammers

Hard to believe most colleges and universities will be back in session in roughly two weeks.

As families make plans for the start of classes — and the tuition bills to come — the Michigan Department of Treasury’s MI Student Aid Team advises students and parents be alert and cautious about offers they might receive for loans and scholarships.

“Students must be very careful when being solicited for assistance with their financial decisions, especially when it pertains to loan assistance,” said acting Deputy State Treasurer Anne Wohlfert, head of treasury’s State and Local Finance Group. “Scammers are taking advantage of those who are vulnerable — and we are seeing more cases of this now than ever before.”

With the cost of college outpacing the average income, most students are forced to seek some level of financial assistance. Scammers, unfortunately, have learned to prey on such situations.

In a typical student loan scam, a scammer will ask for banking information from a student searching for loans, according to the state treasury department.

The scammer typically claims they will use the information to make a direct deposit into the student’s account in return for upfront fees paid through gift cards. Instead, the scammer accesses the student’s banking account and withdraws funds.

“As a rule of thumb, I recommend that students never provide personal identifiable information when applying for scholarships,” Wohlfert said. “This includes banking, credit card and Social Security information.”

Students also should be wary when applying for scholarships that require payment or include language that guarantees a scholarship or their money back. These typically also are scams.

Free services already are available to search for scholarships. Students should take advantage of those services and avoid paying others, Wohlfert said.