Summer Days Drifting Away to...FAFSA Forms?
Whether it’s warm weather, vacation, or no school (for kids anyway!), we’re all looking forward to summer. Not at the top of that list for, well, anyone -- filling out Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. While high schoolers across the country are enjoying their newfound freedom from classes and teachers, those lucky soon-to-be seniors (or let’s be honest – their parents) are preparing to apply to college and fill out those pesky FAFSA forms.
Anyone who has filled out a college student loan form knows how daunting the process is – it requires everything from social security numbers to tax returns to bank statements from both students and their parents (and much more). With all the personal financial details and history of several people in each form, a database of them is a fraudsters’ dream. In fact, one of the fastest growing areas of data breaches is universities. Need more proof? In 2015, Harvard announced that they had discovered a breach affecting eight different schools and administrative organizations. And just last month, the IRS discovered that fraudsters were using FAFSA forms to automatically populate victims’ tax information.
In addition to stealing personal information, fraudsters are taking advantage of the fact that many students don’t have much of a credit history to begin with – let alone actively monitor it to ensure it is protected. This clean slate leaves a major opportunity for thieves, who use the information collected through FAFSA forms to open credit cards and other loan applications on behalf of these students – effectively ruining their credit before they are even out of their teens (or can get a free pizza for it).
So, how can students and parents mitigate FAFSA fraud?
- Create a new, secure password (hint: no password123’s here) for the FAFSA site, and don’t share your login information with anyone, including any officials who may be helping with your application.
- Keep documents, tax returns, and other sensitive information required for the form safe and use a shredder to dispose of them properly.
- Monitor the whole family’s accounts regularly (each person’s bank accounts, credit score, etc.)
- Parents and students should sign up for a service that monitors your personal information and alerts you to any change, use, or misuse of it.
Safekeeping all documents with sensitive information and consistently checking your accounts for fraudulent activity are surefire ways to stay on top of fraud. College applications are stressful enough – don’t let the FAFSA process distract you!
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