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ISSUE 118 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/19/2004

Loan scam found

By Sara Perelli-Minetti
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 19, 2004

The St. Olaf Financial Aid Office issued an e-mail informing students that people posing as employees from loan service companies were trying to solicit personal information over the phone. These phony loan services offer students scholarships in exchange for an address, a phone number and personal bank account information.

The e-mail was a warning from the office, reminding students to "be aware of fraud and identity theft," and never to share bank account information over the phone.

This e-mail to the student body originated from an e-mail to the Financial Aid Office from Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc., the organization St. Olaf uses to grant student loans.

No St. Olaf students have been affected by the scam thus far; there was only one incident, according to Great Lakes, where a student at an undisclosed college was told that the student had been granted a $10,000 scholarship and that the loan service simply needed to confirm their information, including their bank account number, so that the money could be sent.

Great Lakes also noted that there appeared to be a similar scam several months ago which was perpetrated using the U.S. Department of Education as the scholarship grantor.

Great Lakes sent the e-mail to St. Olaf in order to call attention to the event involving its name as well as to urge the financial aid community to remind students to be cautious with telephone calls and e-mail contacts which offer scholarships or grants in exchange for personal identification and financial data.

Although no St. Olaf students have reported being contacted by any scam artists, one St. Olaf student, Meredith Sorenson '07, was recently contacted by Wells Fargo Bank, informing her that all of her personal account data was in one of four computers stolen a few weeks ago from their headquarters in South Dakota.

As compensation for the incident, Wells Fargo offered Sorenson free identity theft insurance for an entire year, a proposition of which she plans to take advantage.

"My dad is signing me up for the insurance, and I'm just keeping my eye on my account," Sorenson said.

As for the theft of her personal information, Sorenson was quite upset.

"The whole event is rather disconcerting. Why are people's entire accounts stored on a hard drive as opposed to a server?" Sorenson said. "And how did someone walk off with four computers? I find it a slightly outdated and irresponsible system of managing important financial information."

In response to the Great Lakes scholarship phone scam, Sorenson said that she would never give her information over a phone line. "You never know who you're talking to," she said.

Director of Financial Aid Kathy Ruby is grateful that the Great Lakes incident has not directly affected any St. Olaf students. She added that it should make students aware of the large number of companies attempting to take advantage of them.

Another point of caution for college students, according to Ruby, is loan companies calling and asking students to consolidate all their loans without contacting their original bank.

Ruby said that this should be avoided at all cost, and further cautioned students to always be sure they make all their financial interactions with representatives from their actual bank.

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