An overwhelming amount of Americans have student loan debt. According to Forbes Advisor, student loan debt hit an incredible $1.75 trillion in 2022. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that many borrowers are searching for student loan programs to help relieve the burden of debt.
Student loan scams are nothing new, but they have experienced a dramatic uptick in recent years — which some experts credit to the wave of moratoriums placed on student loan repayments. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed in March 2020, provided some relief for federal student loan borrowers by providing a 0% interest rate along with a pause on payments and collections. Since then, the pause has been extended many times, which may confuse some borrowers, leaving them even more susceptible to scammers.
Navigating your student loan payments and forgiveness options during a global pandemic can be challenging, but it’s important that you stay alert to entities trying to take advantage of the situation. Beware of anyone who claims that they can get your loans erased as part of the “CARES Act loan forgiveness,” “Biden loan forgiveness,” or a “pandemic grant.” These are common scam program names being circulated.
Learn more about student loan forgiveness scams and how you can avoid falling victim to one. Included in this guide are the most common red flag tactics used by scammers to swindle you out of your money or obtain your personal information, tips on how to stay safe, and helpful links to resources.
What’s a Student Loan Forgiveness Scam?
Student loan forgiveness scams or debt relief scams are when con-artists attempt to trick a student loan borrower into providing them with sensitive personal information and/or money to rip them off or steal their identity. Oftentimes, a student loan forgiveness scammer will reach out to borrowers through phone calls, text messages, social media, or email. The majority of scammers will claim they can save you time and money with the services they provide to help relieve the burden of student loan debt. Some scammers might pose as a government employee with the U.S. Department of Education or say they’re with a private student loan program or company.
Many student loan debt relief scams will charge you a fee to do a service that you can do yourself or through your federal loan servicer for free, such as help filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Of course, charging a fee for something that can be done yourself isn’t fraudulent in and of itself, but if you pay them, and they don’t deliver on their promise, then it’s fraud. Student relief scammers will often ask for sensitive information, such as your Social Security number (SSN), bank and credit card information, and federal student aid (FSA) ID. If the company was legitimate, information like this would be requested online through a secure portal after you’ve logged in to your account. Giving information over the phone can be very dangerous and a sign that the voice on the other end isn’t who they say they are.
Student Loan Forgiveness Scam Tactics 🚩
There are a variety of tactics a student loan forgiveness scammer could use to scam you out of your money or obtain your personal information. The following are some of the most common strategies and red flags a scammer might take:
- They reach out to you first. Official student loan lenders and relief programs will typically not reach out to you directly without you first prompting the conversation. If someone calls, emails, or texts you unsolicited, there’s a good chance it’s a scam.
- They try to charge you a fee in exchange for free services. Legitimate loan forgiveness programs and student relief services offer student loan help for free. And the federal government also offers multiple fee-free services to student loan borrowers.
- Claims that they can quickly cancel all your student loans if you pay them. Remember that student loan forgiveness is typically a lengthy, involved process. There’s no quick-fix solution. And many times, student loan debt can’t be completely forgiven except for special circumstances. If someone approaches you with an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Promises loan consolidation for a fee. Student loan consolidation is a free service offered by the Department of Education, so there’s no need to pay a fee. Many scammers won’t even consolidate your debts at all but will just take your money and run.
- Poses as a lawyer and promises to settle your loan debt. Scammers might ask you to make monthly installment payments to them under the pretense that they’ll negotiate settlements with your loan servicer. But, often, your loan servicer will never actually get the money, resulting in your loans going into default.
- Promises better loan terms for a fee. Scammers sometimes promise to negotiate lower interest rates or better loan terms if you pay them a fee. They might even claim they can improve your credit score — all of which is untrue.
- Claims they can negotiate repayment or forgiveness of private student loans. In addition to federal student loans, scammers might also claim they can help you with loans from private lenders. They will often ask you to send your loan repayments to them instead of to the lender in exchange for better repayment terms, but they instead just keep your money and disappear.
- Asks you for personal information or account information. The Department of Education will not contact you and ask for personal details such as your SSN, account number, FSA ID number, password, etc. — nor will a student loan servicer. Also, don’t be fooled if they ask you to confirm your information. It’s a ploy so you’ll reveal it to them.
- Pressures you to act quickly. Scam solicitations and phony ads might try to pressure you to act quickly before you have the time to think clearly about the situation. Buzzwords like “limited time only” and “act now” should be a huge red flag as legit federal programs don’t have limited windows of opportunity when it comes to student loan help.
How to Avoid Student Loan Forgiveness Scams 👀
If you get solicited by someone about your student loans, here are some actions you should take to avoid being a victim of a scammer:
- Take the time to research and vet forgiveness programs and services. Some scammers will claim that the program is affiliated with the government or the Department of Education, but in reality, it has no affiliation. Always check with your loan servicer and online at Studentaid.gov to make sure these claims are legitimate. You can also verify a company using third-party sites like the Better Business Bureau’s search page.
- Always look to your student loan servicer first. Your servicer will typically be the best place to look for assistance when it comes to student loan debt and relief programs. They can often help you defer your payments, set up a lower monthly payment, and offer other services for free.
- Never pay an upfront fee. If you pay right away for a service, you leave yourself vulnerable to being tricked. The service may never happen, and you’ll lose your money. Consider if you can do the service yourself or seek help from the Department of Education.
- Never give out your personal information or federal aid information. Scammers can use this sensitive information to take your money, steal your identity, or perform other nefarious activities.
Legitimate Student Loan Forgiveness Programs ✅
There are a lot of valid ways to get student loan relief or forgiveness help. One such option is through the popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, which promises forgiveness of federal student loans to government and qualifying nonprofit employees. Another option is the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program or Military Loan Forgiveness Program, among others.
It’s important to note that these programs take time to complete and often take several qualifying loan payments before you can apply. So anything that promises a quick and easy solution is most likely not legit. For loans from private lenders, there may be some forgiveness options (though usually much less than with federal loans), and these will depend on the specific lender you’re working with.
To learn if you qualify for a student loan forgiveness program, contact your loan servicer or the forgiveness program you are interested in directly.
How to Report Student Loan Scams🚨
If you’ve been contacted by a student loan scammer, you should file a complaint with your student loan service provider immediately. It’s also highly advised that you report your experience with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), your state attorney general, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, so they can document it and hopefully help prevent it from happening again. In some cases, you may want to contact the authorities and seek legal help.
If you’ve already given a scammer your personal information and/or money, then you’ll want to freeze your credit with the major credit bureaus so that no new lines of credit can be opened in your name and contact your bank or credit card company. They can place fraud alerts on your account and might even be able to get some (or all) of your money refunded to you. And if you gave out your username or password information, make sure to change those. Consider setting up multi-factor authentication for your accounts for an added layer of security.
Who are the official federal student loan servicers?
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office, there are 9 federal student loan servicers owned by the U.S. Department of Education. To find out who your student loan servicer is, log in to your studentaid.gov account and locate the section called “My Loan Servicers.” You can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-433-3243.
The following are loan servicers owned by the U.S. Department of Education:
|FedLoan Servicing (PHEAA)||1-800-699-2908|
|Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc.||1-800-236-4300|
|Debt Resolution Group||1-800-621-3115 (services only federal student loans in default)|
If you are looking for student loan forgiveness or help with your federal student loans, make sure you’re contacting one of these U.S. Department of Education-affiliated companies.
Do student loan forgiveness programs call you?
Unsolicited phone calls from someone claiming to be with a student loan forgiveness program are very likely a scam. It’s highly unlikely that a legitimate loan servicer or loan forgiveness program would call or contact a borrower out of the blue. You’d typically need to reach out on your own to receive any sort of student loan help.
How do I stop getting student loan forgiveness calls?
The FTC has a National Do Not Call Registry to help stop unwanted mail and telemarketing calls. While putting your number on the registry can help with unwanted phone calls, you may still receive calls from scammers and robocallers. You can also report unsolicited phone calls to your phone provider, and they can help block certain unwelcome phone numbers.
Scammers can be very cunning and convincing, so it’ll take extra vigilance on your part to keep yourself protected. Remember that there are plenty of ways to get free student loan help, so you should never sacrifice your hard-earned money for these types of services. Stick to the programs and companies that you know are legit, and always use your best judgment whenever interacting with someone online or over the phone. Abide by these tips, and you’ll be able to outsmart any student loan scammer.