Thursday, December 31, 2009

Combat the Scammers

A few weeks ago we received an official looking letter from the College Financial Advisory (CFA).  It was labeled Important:  Student Profile Form Enclosed.  Seemed official enough, but I knew from my dealings with FAFSA last year there are a lot of people out there looking to take your money.  FAFSA.COM for one.  While legit, it charges a $79 fee to submit your FAFSA form for you, which you can do for free at FAFSA.ED.GOV.  Don't make the mistake of going to the .COM site... FAFSA = "Free Application for... "  anyhow, back to the CFA.

The letter from CFA has details on our daughter, what school she's attending, and her current filing status.  They've also assigned a Student Profile Number... so I played along and went to their website, CollegeFinadv.org.  I entered the profile number, and behind the login screen is a full service menu with information on obtaining aid, aid facts, a newsletter, etc.  I tried the "Contact Us" option and sent a short note wondering how to get more aid - no response.  The form they sent in the mail has a detailed application, and for a $59 processing fee you can apply for the maximum merit and need-based financial aid programs.  Do people really fall for these scams?  Judging from the effort put into the website and the letter we received, yes!

Next step was to check out who & where these scammers are located... whois is a great tool to find out information for a website.  whois is a command line tool on many platforms but can also be run from various web sites.  I ran the one from whois.net.  The whois lookup turned up some more details:

Domain Name:COLLEGEFINADV.ORG
Registrant Name:Armond Aria
Registrant Street1:4462 Via Realzar
Registrant City:San Diego
Registrant State/Province:CA
Registrant Postal Code:92122
Registrant Email:armond3332001@yahoo.com

Now we're having some fun.  I have a name, address, and an email address.  I sent an email to Mr. Aria, but I don't expect to hear back from him.  I then looked up his address on Google Maps.  You can get a good look at Armond's house with the street view option:

  http://tinyurl.com/ygfjkpa

I also did a search of the address that's on their website.  That points to a strip mall with several businesses, but no sign of the College Financial Advisory.

These days, there's no shortage of people trying to get into your wallet.  Be careful and use some of the readily available tools to check people out.  Unfortunately people are continuing to send this scammer money - just do a search on the company name and you'll find countless stories... if you're in the San Diego area say hello to Armond and ask him how rewarding it is to scam people.

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