Financial Aid and Scholarships recently issued a scam alert about possible fraudulent activity associated with a firm called Advantage America that allegedly claims to give away government grants to college students.
The department advised students in late January not to give away personal information to anyone claiming to be from Advantage America.
The company allegedly calls students and tells them that they have won a $12,000 grant, and that they need to provide their bank account information so their money can be directly deposited into their account, according to the CSUN Financial Aid Department website.?Students were told that a one-time processing fee of $49.95 will be charged to their account and that a membership fee of $299 will be charged to stay eligible for grants every year.
The company then allegedly depletes funds from the account while students wait for the supposed grant to be deposited.
CSUN was made aware of the scam in January by another CSU, said Lili Vidal, associate director of programs and services Financial Aid. ?”Other campuses started asking if we had been contacted by this organization,” Vidal stated. ?
Beverly Staples, assistant director of Financial Aid Services at CSU Chico, said the campus was notified of Advantage America on Jan. 20 after the parents of a student called the campus to complain about the fraudulent activity. ?Staples said she does not know if CSU Chico contacted CSUN about the company.
Advantage America’s alleged activities are not limited to the CSU system. The company’s name has appeared on several scam alert websites, such as ripoffreport.com and scamfraudalert.com, listing it as falsely promising to deliver government grants and fraudulently charging bank accounts.
The Better Business Bureau of Central Florida, a private entity which keeps track of local business practices, has received 454 complaints against Advantage America since August 2005. ?The bureau listed a scam alert notice on its website, including a phone number for the company that sends callers straight to a customer service department.
Jerosa Lim, a customer service representative for Advantage America, said the company does not give away grants, but helps people only to get them. ?
Since November 2005, the North Dakota attorney general has issued a cease and desist order against Advantage America and its aliases, which include First National Benefits, First National Grants, and a slew of other titles. ?
The order accuses Advantage America of being in violation of North Dakota’s Consumer Fraud Law and Do Not Call Law, as well as engaging in deceptive acts or practices during telephone solicitations to the state’s consumers.
Consumers are also being warned by the Bureau website that Advantage America, its aliases, or possibly even other companies, have started calling consumers claiming to “assist” them in receiving government grants rather than giving them directly away. ?The companies still promise to provide the service in exchange for withdrawing money from consumers’ bank accounts, according to the site.
“No U.S. government grant-making agency will make phone calls to solicit money or to ask for anyone’s personal banking information for any potential grant,” said Lisa, a customer service representative for Grants.gov, a centralized government website for the 26 federal grant-making agencies.
The Financial Aid Department has not received any notices of students defrauded by Advantage America, but “(similar scams have) happened to students here in Northridge in the past with other companies,” Vidal said.
The Financial Aid Department has advised students not to give away personal information to anyone claiming to be from Advantage America.