For thousands of college graduates in Oregon, making student loan payments will soon become reality. A reality that can feel like a huge financial burden. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, borrowers, on average, owe over $28,000. And because student loan debt is so common, scammers smell opportunity. During the summer, the Better Business Bureau sees a spike in reports since this is a particularly busy season for this type of scam.
BBB Scamtracker has received reports that this scam starts as a phone call, email or letter to the student, claiming their company can alleviate all student loan debt for a fee. The scammer also claims to have helped other student loan holders. However, student loans can only be forgiven under very specific circumstances, which are neither fast nor easy. Instead of helping, the scammers take your fee and disappear.
As the expression goes, “if it is too good to be true, it probably is.” And sadly, we receive countless reports from victims every year on our Scam Tracker. The student loan debt relief industry is known for making big promises that are short on delivering, and many of them charge a service fee for something you could have done by yourself at no cost.
Organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission, try to combat these scammers. The FTC filed cases against 11 student loan debt relief companies accused of bilking consumers out of more than $148 million through marketing ploys and unmet expectations. But such companies, accused of exploiting borrowers, continue to be successful because the "student debt crisis” continues to grow, according to Persis Yu, Director of the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at the National Consumer Law Center.
The best thing new borrowers or those who have been paying their debt for years should know when you get robocalls is this:
- Never pay upfront fees. Avoid deceptive phrases like, “We do the work for a fee.” Real lenders will take a percentage once their service is complete and will never demand a fee upfront.
- Do your research and ask questions. Check to see how long the company or lender has been in business and ask questions. Does the lender appear to be well-established? Are you feeling high pressure?
- Know your options. If you have trouble paying back student loans, contact the lender directly to discuss ways to make it easier to repay the debt. Options may include making lower payments or suspending loan repayments for a while. The type of student loan, as well as the type of lender (government or private) will impact the options available to you.
(Dawn Johnson is with the Better Business Bureau Northwest.)