Q. What advice can BBB provide to help protect our children from ID theft at school and also for student aid and scholarship applications?
A. In just a few short weeks, school bells will ring announcing the start of another school year. For many parents, that means forms, forms, and more forms -— applications for scholarships, sports teams, scouts and the list goes on.
As you get started, consider how much of your child's information you're sharing and how to protect it. You have some protection under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, which requires schools to notify parents and guardians about their school directory policy. It also allows parents to opt-out of the release of directory information to third parties.
Safeguard your children's Social Security numbers by not carrying their cards with you and asking the school if they really need them for their records. If the school insists, ask why they need them, and how they will protect them.
After the year begins, you may no longer need certain forms; shred them using a cross-cut shredder.
If you have college students, consider giving them shredders of their own to destroy pre-approved credit card offers or other pieces of mail that could be used for identity theft.
Be social, but be careful
If your children have cell phones, other mobile devices or regular access to social media sites, have a heart-to-heart talk about what they should and shouldn't share. Full names, addresses, and birth dates can be vulnerability points if exposed to social media. Become familiar with GPS services on mobile devices and consider monitoring your child's online activity to stay alert to any cyberbullying.
Lock it up
To take additional precautions in protecting your child's information, some states will allow you to freeze an individual credit record. Credit reporting agencies will create and freeze a minor's credit record upon the request of a parent or minor, in order to prevent a thief from opening any lines of credit or accounts in the child's name. The only way it can be opened is if the parent or guardian requests it, or the child turns 16. Check with your state attorney general's office for more information.
Have a good start to the new school year with a little peace of mind. If your child's information is used for identity theft, report it immediately to law enforcement and visit identitytheft.gov for a complete plan on how to recover it. Then report it to www.bbb.org/scamtracker .
Advice on student scholarships
Who can't use some extra money especially when you are sending a child to college? Planning for college can be a stressful situation and it makes one vulnerable. When vulnerable situations exist; there are fraudsters waiting to take advantage.
While there are legitimate companies and organizations that can help you navigate the often confusing processes to secure grants and other aid, one immediate red flag that you are dealing with a scam is a guarantee or promise that you will get the money.
Some scam artists advertise "free grants" and lure users to contact them for more information. Others will cold call, asking basic questions to see if you qualify for a grant and then ask for your banking information so they can collect a one-time processing fee and directly deposit your money.
With scholarship and financial aid scams, some companies will claim to have programs guaranteeing a financial package and promise they'll handle the paperwork for a fee. But remember, applying for scholarships is generally free.
In the U.S., the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the only application that determines eligibility for all federal programs and you can complete and submit it at no expense.
What to watch for
Read and listen for these red flag messages:
» The scholarship is guaranteed. If you don't get it, you'll get your money back.
» You can't get this information anywhere else.
» We need your credit card number or bank information to hold the scholarship.
» You pay a processing fee for us to do all the work.
» You have to spend money to get money.
» You've been selected to receive a scholarship (that you never applied for).
Never give your bank account information or credit card to anyone you don't know. Once a scammer has this information, they can steal your money. Be sure that you don't share it unless you are familiar with the company and know why they need the information.
Don't pay money for free government grants. Government agencies won't charge you fees for grants you have already been awarded or for information. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov.
Check for look-alikes. A caller may say he is from the "Federal Grants Administration" – which doesn't exist. Be sure to do your research and see if an agency or organization actually exists. Research contact info on your own and call them to be sure the person you've heard from is legitimate.
Don't rely on caller ID. New technology lets scam artists disguise their phone numbers and appear to be calling from an agency in Washington, DC. Don't fall for it!
Visit, www.studentaid.edu.gov/sa, the U.S. Department of Education's site for free information on scholarships for education beyond high school. You can complete the FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov and learn about filing options at www.fafsa.ed.gov/options or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.