Every student debt relief scam to watch out for in October
In just the past two weeks, more than 350,000 student loan-related robocalls have deluged Americans.
For perspective, this amounts to the equivalent number witnessed in the previous two months, according to Transaction Network Services (TNS).
As millions of Americans gear up to repay loans for the first time in more than three years, cunning con artists aren't wasting their chance to catch graduates off-guard.
Keep reading as we expose the various ways scammers prey on vulnerable borrowers. By the end, you’ll be armed with a complete understanding of the dirty tactics these imposters use.
So, are you ready to arm yourself and fight back?
Red flags that scream "scam"
Scammers come and go, but many of their tactics and techniques remain the same. So, what are some of the methods scammers currently use or have used in the past?
In other words, what do you need to look out for?
One of the best ways to defend against con artists is to watch for warning signs. Here are some of the biggest red flags to look out for and some of the most common tactics scammers use.
- Unsolicited contact: If you didn’t initiate contact first, be very wary. Look out for cold calls, direct mail, or unsolicited emails.
- Offers too good to be true: Unfortunately, the old adage is likely correct; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t let attractive offers make you drop your guard. The more tempting the offer, the more skeptical you should be.
- Demand for upfront payment: You may find a scammer offering various services in exchange for an upfront fee. It’s illegal for companies to request compensation for debt relief services before providing the help.
- Misleading language: Look for phrases like “limited-time offer” or “guaranteed approval.” In many cases, these statements can’t be legitimately backed.
- Confusing language: According to John Haraburda, a robocall data expert at TNS, “Scammers seize on chaos and confusion.” Some scammers may try to confuse you by sounding sophisticated in the way they describe debt relief. If they can’t explain a concept in simple terms, be wary.
- Promises to clear student loan debt immediately: Look out for lofty promises that are impossible to fulfill. No program exists in the United States that delivers immediate student loan relief. Typically, you must spend five to 10 years working before becoming eligible. Even then, you must work in a particular field and meet specific income requirements.
- Insistence that they belong to a government agency: The craftiest con artist will use logos from the U.S. Department of Education or Treasury Department to boost perceived legitimacy. Don’t fall for it. Outside of your current loan servicer, no organization is permitted to handle your federal student loans.
- Lack of transparency: A huge red flag is any company that isn’t clear about its services, fees, or benefits. Ask questions, and be suspicious if you get partial, vague, or otherwise unsatisfactory responses.
- High-pressure tactics: If you feel like you’re being sold a used car at the shadiest dealership in town, chances are you're being scammed. For these deadbeats, time is of the essence. The longer you take to decide, the more likely you’ll discover their scam. As a result, these con artists use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to cough up payment fast.
- Request for sensitive personal information: Under no circumstances should you be asked or provide sensitive information, like your Social Security number or Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, to a company over the phone or through email. Nor should you provide it to anyone knocking on your door unsolicited. Scammers can use these details to steal your identity and borrow money under your name.
- No physical address for the company offering assistance: If a company only has a P.O. Box and no physical address, that's a warning sign. Or, if their address is linked to multiple businesses, that's also a red flag.
- Request for you to sign a form giving them power of attorney: In extreme cases, a fraudulent company might ask you to sign a written agreement allowing them to work directly with your federal loan servicer on your behalf. Don't do it.
- Poor reviews or no online presence: While the internet has helped proliferate scammers, it’s also helped stop them. Look for reviews of the company in question and check their standing with the Better Business Bureau. It’s not just bad reviews that are a red flag; too few of them—even if highly rated— might be a sign you’re dealing with a sketchy company.
- Demands for unconventional payment methods: Legitimate companies will never ask for untraceable payments like wire transfers or gift cards.
Examples of actual scams
Most student loan scams will reach you via email or phone. Both methods enable scammers to reach thousands of individuals quickly. That way, if even a tiny sliver of their targets succumb to the scam, the strategy can be lucrative.
A recent robocall transcript released by TNS showed how some scammers aim to identify themselves in an official-sounding capacity.
"This is United Services Student Loan Department with an urgent call to our clients regarding the new federal program, which now qualifies for complete dismissal and full discharge of all your federal student loans, as well as a refund of monies paid and removal from credit history," goes the automated message according to the transcript from TNS.
Even more prevalent than robocalls are scammy emails. Here are some examples of actual emails that have circulated among borrowers.
Fortunately, you’re not alone when it comes to tackling your student loan debt. Amid the hordes of scammers, there are legitimate and honest agencies that can provide debt relief assistance.
- The Institute of Student Loan Advisors (TISLA): Provides borrowers with free and neutral student loan advice. This nonprofit also offers dispute resolution assistance.
- National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA): A group of over 1,500 attorneys and consumer advocates focused on protecting and representing consumers.
- National Consumer Law Center (NCLC): The NCLC focuses on consumer issues for low-income individuals.
- American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC): Nonprofit offering confidential credit counseling help, debt consolidation, and other services.
- National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC): The NFCC provides holistic and comprehensive money management solutions and advice.