Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.
Tuition scams are clever social engineering schemes designed to trick unsuspecting prospective, current, or former college students into willingly and unnecessarily paying money to obtain some type of financial assistance for their education costs. With a variety of campaigns created to elicit money with empty promises of “free” money, reduced tuition payments, or debt relief, knowing some of the common tactics these scammers use can help prevent students from being victimized in a student financial service scam or an unpaid tuition scam. It is important to remember that FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is the only legitimate application to determine eligibility to receive federally-funded financial aid. However, some scammers offer services to help students complete these forms using websites that replicate FAFSA designs using convincing logos and words such as foundation, federal, national, or association to appear legitimate while charging unsuspecting victims anywhere from $250 to $1000 dollars for assistance and fraudulently “guaranteeing” financial assistance.
Other tuition scams work by offering to pay students’ tuition fees for them at a reduced price. They require students to pay a portion of their tuition bill to the scammer who then “promises” to pay the full tuition amount to the school. However, after the scammers get paid, they disappear with the money and the schools never receive the payment, leaving the students on the hook for the full tuition amount.
Similar scams target former college students who are in the process of repaying their student loans. These scammers call or email existing loan holders and promise lower monthly bills, asking victims to provide the login credentials to their loan payment portal so that a third-party servicer can make the payment on the students’ behalf. If students log into the portal, they will see that their loan payments have been made and then provide a discounted payment to the scammers; however, in reality, the scammers process the payment with a stolen credit card, ultimately resulting in the loan organization declining or reversing the charges. The victimized students are still held responsible for the full amount of the loan payment and any subsequent late fees after having lost additional money to the scammers.
To help reduce the risk of falling victim to a tuition scam, please review the following tips:
Beware of any unsolicited offer of free financial aid or reduced tuition or student loan payments. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Never provide login credentials for tuition payment portals or loan portals to anyone and secure all financial accounts with lengthy, complex passwords and multi-factor authentication, if available.
Always verify that the website address you visit to pay your tuition or loan payments is legitimate before entering any sensitive information.
For assistance with completing FAFSA forms for financial aid, visit your school’s financial aid department or visit the official FAFSA website at studentaid.gov to request help for free.
If you suspect you have fallen victim to a tuition scam, be sure to contact your local police department and report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.