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Student Loan Scams to Watch for As Payments Resume

Student loan scams steal billions - here's what to watch out for.

Student loans came out of their forbearance period and payments resumed towards the end of last year. Nobody likes getting an extra bill added to the things they have to pay each month – especially when it’s a bill you haven’t had to worry about for the past few years. Unfortunately, scammers know this too. Student loan scams stole an estimated $5 billion in 2022 alone. And with payments resuming and the Biden administration making moves towards smaller-scale loan forgiveness, scammers are looking at another profitable year of using student loan lies to make money. Here’s what you need to know about their schemes.

The Devastating Results of Student Loan Scams

No scam is pleasant or enjoyable for the victim. But student loan scams can be more devastating than most. Part of this is because of the amount of money involved. When you owe a hundred thousand dollars in student loans, paying thousands of dollars in fees to get it forgiven or receiving an offer to discharge the whole debt with only a $20,000 payment seems like a great deal. The potential for losses are astronomical.

In addition, some scammers trick you into paying them instead of your loan. You think you’re making reasonable payments, while in reality the scammer is stealing that money and your actual loans are going into default. By the time you realize, you’ve lost thousands of dollars, your credit score has plummeted, and debt collectors are hounding you for payments you thought you were making.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, student loan scams can also target your identity. Scammers are great at convincing targets to share their Social Security numbers or their Federal Student Aid identification (FSA ID) information. These scammers will happily take your money. But they will just as happily steal your identity if they can get you to share that information.

We don’t share this information to scare you. (Although, let’s be real, it is scary!) We share this so you know just how important it is to be able to identify and avoid potential student loan scams. The best thing you can do to stay safe is to know what’s out there so you can identify the scams when you see them. The second best thing you can do is share this information with your loved ones who might also be targets for these scams!

Student Loan Scammers’ Favorite Ploys

Scammers like to use the same stories, lies, and tricks over and over again because they work. The same thing is happening with student loan scams. The scammers have found a few things that people want to hear, and they keep reusing the same stories with different variations. These are some of their favorite lies to hook you with. If anyone tells you one of these stories, it’s probably a scam.

We Can Get Your Student Loans Forgiven

Back when President Biden first announced his initial student loan forgiveness plan, student loan forgiveness scams popped up everywhere. That forgiveness plan has now been overruled by the Supreme Court. But smaller student loan forgiveness programs have been happening recently and scammers know you still want your loans forgiven. One of their favorite lies to tell potential victims is that they can get rid of your student loan debt altogether.

They can look very official and claim all sorts of reasons why they can get your loans forgiven. Maybe they’ll say they have expert negotiators or some kind of legal upper hand. Maybe they claim they can get you access to special repayment plans or debt forgiveness options. Or they may just say something vague like “you are eligible” or “you qualify.” Either way, they want you to reach out to them so they can help you get rid of your student loans.

The important thing to know is that there are no special repayment plans or debt forgiveness options available. Nobody can give you any shortcuts or get-out-of-student-loans-free cards. Every repayment plan and forgiveness option is publicly available to see on StudentAid.gov. Any new program will be announced on StudentAid.gov. And you don’t need a service to help you get into one of these programs – you can do it yourself online for free.

Your Debt Will Be Canceled – But You Have to Do This First

This story is very similar to the previous one. But here, instead of reaching out to tell you that they can help you get forgiveness, they’ll tell you that student loan forgiveness already applies to you. They may claim it’s a new program, or it’s not being publicized. Or they may not even say what kind of program it is and just tell you that you meet the criteria for loan forgiveness. All you have to do is fill out a form or pay a fee.

Many reports of this story say the scammers made contact with a robocall. But this story can also come through text message, email, or any other way the scammers can think to you. The real trick here is that they don’t need to convince you to contact them. In most variations on this story, they just need to convince you to click on the link to fill out the form or pay the fee. But the link is malicious. Any personal data or payment information you enter won’t help your loans, but it will help the scammer steal your money or identity.

We Can Help You with Your Loans or Your Payment Plan

This ploy is particularly tricky because it’s not always a lie. There are a lot of companies out there who offer to help you renegotiate, consolidate, or settle your student loan debt, lower your interest rate, or get you on an affordable payment plan. And not all of them are scams. Some of them are real companies who really can do what they’re promising.

Hiring a scam company to do this is, obviously, a bad idea. They will charge a fee for their services and then disappear without helping you. However, even if the company is legitimate, it’s not a good idea to use their services. And that’s for one simple reason: They charge a fee to do something you could do for free.

These companies charge fees, sometimes thousands of dollars worth of them, to help you with your loans. But all they’re doing is either filling out forms on your behalf or talking to your loan servicer for you. They may get you a better payment plan, but chances are all they did was fill out the paperwork to get you into one of StudentAid.gov’s new SAVE plans. It’s not difficult or time-consuming to fill out the paperwork for a loan consolidation. And their “renegotiation” probably just involved reaching out to the loan servicer and explaining your situation – which you could do yourself for the cost of a few minutes on the phone.

Warning Signs of Student Loan Scams

The best way to avoid a student loan scam is to spot it before you fall for it. It’s important to know what to watch out for to make these scams easier to spot. These signs are some of the most common red flags of student loan scams.

Classic Scam Red Flags

No matter what kind of scam is targeting you, always be on the lookout for common red flags. Does it sound too good to be true? Does it make you feel a strong emotion? (Scams often rely on making you feel afraid or threatened, but student loan scams may make you feel hopeful or excited instead. Any strong emotion, good or bad, should be suspicious.) Is the message full of typos or grammatical errors?Any of these common warning signs of a scam can show up in student loan scams as well.

You Saw it In An Ad

Most people don’t realize that seeing a paid advertisement for a program or service should be suspicious. But in the case of student loans, it definitely should be. The government has better things to spend their money on than paying to advertise their student loan programs. Anyone who advertises is in it for a profit. They could be the kind of company that is legitimate but charges fees to do things you could do for free. Or they could be a scam – scammers can buy ads too. Regardless, if you see it in an advertisement, it’s best to avoid it.

Pressure to Act Fast

Urgency is another common sign of all types of scams. The scammer might encourage you to “act immediately” or to “call now.” With student loan scams in particular, they might claim that there’s only a limited amount of loan relief available. If you don’t do what they need you to do right away, they say, other people who acted faster might get all the loan relief and there might not be any left for you. The United States Department of Education sometimes sends emails about legitimate programs, but they will never use urgent or aggressive language, and they won’t call. Always be suspicious of anything that insists you need to take action right away.

Asking for Login Information or your FSA ID

Scammers love to get your login information or other personal data. They can use that information to get access to things they shouldn’t or steal your identity, or they could sell it to someone else so they can steal your identity. But nobody legitimate will ever ask for your login information in any situation. Another thing student loan scams like to target is your Federal Student Aid identification (FSA ID). If they have that, they can get access to your student loan accounts and do some terrible damage. Nobody, not even the Department of Education, will ever ask for your FSA ID over the phone, an an email, or over text. If anyone asks you for it, they’re trying to scam you.

Contacting You Out of the Blue

Never trust anyone who contacts you unprompted and offers to help you with your student loans or get you loan forgiveness. No legitimate government program is going to spend the time or money to call everyone eligible for the program – they announce things on official government websites and expect you to check for updates. And if it’s not a government program, they have no way of knowing if you’re eligible or not. Either way, hang up the call or delete the message, because it’s a student loan scam.

Unofficial Emails or Phone Numbers

Scammers love to pretend to be official, legitimate companies and organizations. But they don’t have access to official email addresses or phone numbers. Official communication about federal student loans comes from one of three email addresses and one of two phone numbers (you can see their list here on StudentAid.gov). Anything else you get is fake. You can also check with your loan servicer to see what email addresses and phone numbers they use.

Even though a fake email or phone number means it’s definitely a scam, scammers can sometimes spoof emails or phone numbers to look like they’re coming from somewhere else. Spoofing can be very hard to spot, even for people who know what they’re looking for. So even if the sender seems correct, still keep your eyes open for other signs of a scam.

They Want You To Pay Them, Not Your Loan Servicer

One story scammers use is that they can lower your monthly payment. But if they say you should stop paying your loan servicer and instead pay them and they will pay the loan servicer, that’s a scam. As we discussed previously, there are legitimate companies who may actually be able to lower your payments. (Although, as we also discussed, you should just as easily do this yourself for free.) But a legitimate company will work with the loan servicer, and when your payment is lowered you will continue making lower payments to the servicer.

If they want you to start making your payments through them instead, their strategy is actually to steal your payments. Your payments will never make it to the loan servicer, and depending on how long it takes you to realize that, you could end up with loans past due or even in default while the scammers run away with your payments.

What to Do if You Were Caught in a Student Loan Scam

If you were a victim of a student loan scam, you can take action to protect yourself and avoid further losses. It’s easy to feel ashamed and want to pretend it never happened. But that’s the worst thing you can do. By taking action, you can limit future damage – and maybe help other people avoid the same scam.

First, stop talking to the scammer and block them everywhere you had contact. Don’t delete any messages, though. Instead, save them somewhere you can find them again. That way you have them if they are needed for an investigation in the future.

If you set up any automatic payments to the scammer, call your bank immediately to stop them. (You can also ask what kind of recourse your bank has for these types of scams and fraud – many banks don’t have any help available, but it never hurts to ask.)

Next, contact your loan servicer to report the issue. They may have additional steps you can take to secure your account. Also double-check all contact information on your account with your loan servicer so all future communication goes to you.

Freeze your credit and get a copy of your credit report. Review it for any accounts you didn’t open or any other errors. It’s best to keep your credit frozen until you need to apply for new credit just in case the scammer has some of your information.

Finally, report the scam. You can report it to the FBI at ic3.gov and to the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov. You can also report student loan scams directly to the Federal Student Aid office at studentaid.gov/feedback-center. All of this reporting helps with investigations and gives more accurate data on scams, which helps get more resources allocated to fighting them.

Staying Safe from Student Loan Scams

Even smart, savvy people can fall for scams. That’s especially true when the scam tells you something you want to hear. And if you have student loan debt, “you are eligible to have your debt forgiven” is something you definitely want to hear. But it’s important to keep hold of your common sense, even in the fact of an amazing, even life-changing opportunity. If you aren’t watching out for student loan scams, this great opportunity could turn out to be a nightmare that leaves you not just still stuck with your loans, but having lost even more to scammers.

The best thing you can do is be aware. Know these scams are out there and they’re targeting everyone with student loan debt. The second-best thing you can do is to share this information! If you have family, friends, or other loved ones who have student loans or who also love someone who has student loans, share this article. Letting them know this information will help keep them safe when the scammers target them.

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