CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office is reminding college-bound students to safeguard their personal information as they apply for financial aid.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), necessary to qualify for financial aid, requires students to provide a vast quantity of personal information. Scammers recognize that reality and look for ways to take advantage of the situation.

“Scammers know college is a very expensive investment and that many students need assistance,” Morrisey said. “That’s why it’s so important that students don’t get tricked into handing over their personal information to the wrong person.”

The FAFSA application period opened Oct. 1 as opposed to what was the traditional date of New Year’s Day. Students should file as soon as possible for states, colleges and scholarship programs that award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis.

To avoid compromising sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable data, applicants should verify the validity of the recipient, especially since scammers can use a fake seal and other tools to pose as a government official.

Students should never share their Federal Student Aid identification number. The FSA ID gives students access to Federal Student Aid’s online services and can serve as a legal signature.

Applicants also should not overlook the word “free.” While some agencies or companies may charge to fill out the required paperwork, applicants should remember they can do it themselves for free.

West Virginia students have until spring to apply for state aid. Specifically, the Promise Scholarship deadline expires March 1, and the state’s Higher Education Grant Program deadline expires April 15.

Students will need to use 2016 tax information to complete the 2018-19 form.

Every student, even those who think they may not qualify for federal grants, should apply. Many colleges and states use FAFSA forms to award other grants and scholarships.

Consumers with questions about a potential financial aid scam can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.

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