PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- With all the talk about student loan forgiveness, criminals see a golden opportunity to scam students and their families.
State officials are warning of a surge in these scams throughout the state.
Over 44 million Americans -- one out of eight of us -- have student loans with a debt of over $1.7 trillion, averaging over $30,000 per person.
Talk of loan forgiveness in Washington is welcome news.
"Criminals scan headlines to figure out ways they can convince Pennsylvanians and people all over the United States that something they're offering is legitimate," says Katrina Boyer with the Pennsylvania Department of Banking & Securities.
But so far, the actual loan forgiveness has been limited.
Using existing authority, President Joe Biden has forgiven around $8 billion in federal loans, mostly for those with disabilities. Congress has not yet acted on Biden's plan to forgive the first $10,000 of all federal student loans.
But all this talk makes some people vulnerable, Boyer said.
"The criminals are going to piggyback on that and they're going to come up with phone calls, emails, letters to people saying we can help you get that debt forgiven," Boyer said.
Alyssa Dobson, director of financial aid at Slippery Rock University, said students in this area are getting scammed.
"When we learn that our students have been targeted – and generally speaking when one or two of our students are reaching out then a majority of our students have received the same or similar communication – we'll work with our IT department to essentially rip out those emails that are not legitimate and then block future ones from coming in," Dobson said.
Dobson says both current and former students should call their college's financial aid people to check out the legitimacy of the offer to help with loan forgiveness.
"Reach out to your support network. Reach out to your financial aid office. Give us a call, email. Forward the email communication that you're getting so we can see what is actually transpiring, going on there," Dobson said.
State Banking Department officials say be skeptical and never respond to emails and if you do, make sure it's a .gov email.
"Take a minute just to consider the information that we really have to make sure that it's legitimate. And while we take that few minutes, explore the key names. If a letter has the name of a company, go online and search for the name of the company and the word scam, and see what you find. It's amazing the information you can find from other people who have shared their experiences," Boyer said.
And never respond to any communication with personal information.
Another tip, says Boyer.
"Anytime somebody is going to tell you they are going to do something for a fee, that needs to be a red flag," Boyer said. "The reality is that anybody who is eligible for that true student loan relief, is not going to have to pay money in order to be able to do it," Boyer said.
If you feel you are a victim of a student loan forgiveness scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission, the state Attorney General and local police.
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