SJC warns students of potential financial aid scam

October 25, 2011 4:02:42 PM PDT
A local college is speaking out against a company charging a processing fee for financial aid. The school says cash-strapped students are being tricked into paying for something that's already free.

College students across our area are getting the letters in the mail, promising information to help them find money for their education. But officials at San Jacinto Community College are telling their students not to use them.

SJC is warning its students not to apply for financial aid through the Student Financial Aid Resources Center, they say, because the company is charging for services that the school says are free in the community college's financial aid office. And there are other schools around the country warning their students as well.

The letters from the Student Financial Aid Resources Center came in the mail, inviting students at SJC to apply for financial aid with their help for just $59.

Some students like freshman Morgan Ouelette started filling in the application right away.

"It was because it says it's for next year's financial aid and it looks legitimate," Ouelette said.

But then the college issued a warning, calling the offer from the Student Financial Aid Resources Center a "scam."

"If I would have had the money right then and sent it off, I would have; but I didn't have the money so I was just going to wait and then I got that email," Ouelette told Eyewitness News.

SJC explained the reason for the email.

"We provide the service here. Students pay for it in the general service fee. It's not only available for students, it's available for the general community," said Robert Merino, SJC Financial Aid Director.

The San Diego company, Student Financial Aid Resources Center, responded with a cease and desist letter to the school, threatening to sue if the school made, "further intentionally false, misleading and defamatory statements."

But this isn't the only school to warn students about the company -- schools in Iowa and Louisiana are also warning students not to apply. And a check of the Better Business Bureau in San Diego shows a different, but similar name at the same mailing address and website listing with a grade of "C" and 84 complaints in the last three years -- 46 of them in the last 12 months alone.

Meantime, SJC isn't calling it a scam anymore, but still warns students to stay away nonetheless.

"It's direct marketing to our students, encouraging them to pay for service we provide for free," Merino said.

We attempted to contact the company by phone and email and did not get a response.

SJC says if students have any questions about financial aid, do not hesitate to ask the financial aid office.


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