Too many young people discover their identities have been stolen when they apply for student loans or financial aid.

Some students have reported that there was substantial debt on their records, meaning their identities could have been compromised as far back as early childhood. Others reported that someone had already secured a loan in their names and is, in fact, attending school somewhere. This discovery poses problems not only for applying for their own financial aid but also with their tax returns.

Students have been cautioned for some time to check their credit reports in advance of entering college, but anyone filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for federal financial aid opportunities would do well to be sure their credit reports have no surprises. FAFSA’s are typically filled out while the applicant is still in high school, which can give more time to resolve the matter.

When dealing with federal financial aid, you’d logically expect there to be a number of checks and balances along the way. Unfortunately, the very process that has made it even easier than ever to apply for aid is the same one that lets thieves enter your complete information online without having to provide documentation. If the university is remiss in not checking these documents thoroughly, you can end up with a hefty debt, seized tax returns, and more.

Fortunately, there is recourse if your identity is stolen, but if you delay in getting the issue resolved your own higher education plans might be put on hold. As soon as you suspect a problem, contact the following three agencies to report the matter:

– U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Hotline

– Federal Trade Commission

– Social Security Administration

If the thief is using your information for his or her own financial aid, you can also seek a court judgment on your case to submit it to the university and have that student removed. This step may be necessary if they’ve neared the limit on exhausting your eligibility for aid, Pell Grants, or other funding.

There are two important things to keep in mind. First, if a thief has used your information for student loans or aid, there’s a very good chance they’ve also committed other forms of fraud with your identity. Why stop at loans when they can apply for credit cards or open utility accounts?

The other thing to remember is that once your financial aid application is received and everything looks good, that does not mean you’re out of the woods. An identity thief can strike at any time, and college life comes with numerous risks. There are roommates with access to your desk, study partners coming and going from your dorm or classroom, friends who borrow your laptop for projects, and much more school-specific scenarios. Safeguard your information at all times, no matter how well you think you know your peers.

How much information are you putting out there? It’s probably too much. We are here to help you stop sharing Too Much Information. Sign up for the TMI Weekly.