Scammers are trying to prey on some of the 44 million Americans who are set to start making their first payments in more than three years.
More than 350,000 student-loan related robocalls have been placed in the last two weeks — roughly as many as in the nine prior weeks, Transaction Network Services (TNS), which analyzes calls across dozens of carrier networks to identify robocall scams, told CBS MoneyWatch.
The jump in student debt-related scams comes as the first repayments on college loans are set to, following a pandemic-era pause that began in 2020 to help borrowers stay afloat amid the public emergency. At the same time, President Biden's offer to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt per borrower was , even as some other and repayment programs are moving forward, which may leave some borrowers unclear on how to proceed.
"Scammers seize on chaos and confusion," said John Haraburda, a robocall data expert at TNS. "Right now, you have a lot of activity with the new White House student loan plan, loan payments set to resume in October and the start of the school year."
He added, "Consumers should operate under the assumption that when something sounds too good to be true, it is."
Transcripts of robocalls tracked by TNS found that the scammers typically begin by saying they are reaching out regarding an individual's student loan. They then offer something enticing, such as lowering or postponing your monthly payment, or even providing full loan forgiveness, with some fraudulently identifying themselves as calling from the Department of Education. Others identify themselves as from "student services" or other vaguely official-sounding company.
For instance, one robocall began: "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," according to a TNS transcription.
Scammers also may ask their targets to make an upfront payment as a step in obtaining the purported debt relief, or they could ask for payment for a service that is free. Others might be seeking personal information, such as Social Security numbers or other data, TNS noted.
Scammers pretending to be loan servicers
Some fraudsters also pose as a borrower's new student loan servicer, according to IdentityIQ, an identity-theft protection company. During the pandemic, some servicers stopped dealing with student loans or ended their contracts, which means many borrowers are likely to restart their payments with companies they may not be familiar with.
Some of the changes in servicers are listed by the Education Department at this site. For example, Navient ended its servicing contract in 2021, and its accounts were picked up by Aidvantage. Yet that confusion is giving scammers a window to trick unsuspecting borrowers, experts say.
Before responding to an unsolicited email or phone call, confirm your student loan servicer by logging into StudentAid.gov or calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center, advised Mike Scheumack, chief innovation officer at IdentityIQ. Also be alert for spelling and grammatical errors, which can tip you off that a caller or emailer isn't legit.
Borrowers don't have to pay for help managing their student loans, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which issued a warning last month about scams targeting people with student loans.
"If someone tries to charge you up front, before they've done anything, that's your first clue that this is a scam," the FTC noted. "And nobody but a scammer will ever offer you quick loan forgiveness."
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