If you’ve been getting emails, phone messages, or texts about how to qualify for student loan forgiveness, you’ve likely been the target of a scam. No, these scams aren’t new, but they’ve picked up steam during the Department of Education’s Covid-relief pause on student loan interest and payments. The “pause” on federal student loan payments for some 37 million borrowers has now been extended by another four months until August 31, 2022. (Federal student loan payments have been on “pause” since March of 2020, during which time payments on student loans have been on hiatus.)
In the interim, scammers have ramped up their efforts to target and take advantage of borrowers, and phishing scams are likely to pick up even more as the repayment deadline approaches, says Leslie Tayne, a financial attorney with Tayne Law Group and student loan expert.
If you don’t have student loans, these calls, emails or texts are easy enough to ignore, but if you do have them, you might be wondering if you could be missing a legitimately important call, or a chance to save money. (After all, there have been so many changes in recent years, it seems like nothing at this point would be a surprise.) But watch out. Anyone doing outreach to you about your loans is almost never ever legitimate. Here’s what you should know.
The US Department of Education Will Never Hound You About Forgiveness Programs
Borrowers must reach out to their loan servicer to inquire about forgiveness — it’s only available to a select set of borrowers who meet strict eligibility criteria. And it’s not easy to qualify for. No one is going to be reaching out to you with an enticing, too-good-to-be-true offer. It’s possible that the Department of Education could let you know about the limited PSLF waiver, but they will notify you in writing if they contact you, Tayne says. There’s also a recent limited Navient settlement offering some borrowers forgiveness for private student loans. But that settlement also applies to limited groups, Tayne says. “My recommendation is to follow up or be proactive and call your servicer to find out if your loans are part of that,” she says. That way, you can be confident about your loan status if you get a call with an incredible offer.
The Scam Language You Might Hear
According to the Federal Student Aid website, these are the most common phrases to watch out for.
- “Act immediately to qualify for student loan forgiveness before the program is discontinued.”
- “Your student loans may qualify for complete discharge. Enrollments are first come, first served.”
- “Your student loan was flagged for forgiveness pending verification.”
Loan scammers cast a wide net to target anyone, but student loan borrowers are particularly vulnerable to the promises, Tayne says. In fact, in 2021, the Federal Trade Commission issued more than $1.7 million in refunds to individuals targeted by debt relief scams.
Other Red Flags To Keep An Eye Out For
In short, any promise that sounds amazing is suspect. “Generally, the main type of scams we see are those that call you on the phone and say they can get your student loans resolved,” Tayne says. A few targeted terms scammers love using are:
Promises of “loan forgiveness.”
Not likely. Yes, forgiveness exists, but it’s targeted to a select group of borrowers and they must apply to determine their eligibility. “Any definitive promises about forgiveness or promises about what somebody can do in a specific timeframe or for a specific dollar amount are a red flag,” Tayne says.
They promise to reduce your payments—for a fee.
If a so-called debt relief company offers to help you for an upfront fee, hang up the phone. According to the FTC, it’s illegal for companies to charge fees before they work with you. “There shouldn’t be any money information exchanged over the phone with someone soliciting you directly,” Tayne says.
They promise special access to payment programs.
They might tell you they can help you with a new repayment plan or consolidation or that elusive forgiveness program. They’re lying.
Solicitation can also come in the mail, so watch for fake-looking mailers—but generally scams target you by phone. If it all sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. You can always call your servicer if you’re in doubt, but don’t use the number a scammer gives over the phone. Find the correct number online at your account at StudentAid.gov. Your loans and servicers are listed in your account.
Information Scammers Could Ask For
Most scams involve harvesting important personal information from their targets. These are the types of information they might ask you for. Social security number
- Federal Student Aid ID number
- Bank account
- Credit card information
Hang up the phone. Delete the email.
What to Do If You’re a Victim
On the chance you do give out sensitive information, first remember that it’s not your fault. These people are very good at what they do. Here’s what to do to protect your information.
Update your FSA ID.
Head over to StudentAid.gov and update your account with a new password and make sure your account information is correct. Submit a complaint so StudentAid.gov can monitor your account for suspicious activity. If you’re not successful updating your password, contact the Information Center right away.
Contact your bank and credit card companies.
Let them know you’ve been the target of fraud and cancel your cards. They might be able to freeze your account, but it may be safer to have them issue new cards.
Freeze your credit.
Contact one of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion – to place a freeze. That bureau will share the request with the other two, so no need to contact all three. Freezing your credit means scammers can’t open new lines of credit in your name. If, later, you want to open a new credit card or apply for a loan, you’ll need to unfreeze your credit report but it’s not difficult to do.
File a complaint.
Whether you’ve given out sensitive information or not, StudentAid.gov would like to know you’ve been targeted. You can submit a complaint to describe the scam. Also, it’s helpful to report the scam to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Contact your loan servicer.
Make sure no one has taken any kind of action on your loans. You can find a list of your loan servicers in your StudentAid.gov account.
More on HerMoney:
- The Top 5 FAQ About Refinancing Student Loans
- 5 Strategies to Start Repaying Your Student Loans and Become Debt Free
- A Simple Trick To Get Out Of Student Debt Faster
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