In what can only be described as inevitable, the FBI is warning those eligible for student loan debt relief to keep an eye out for scammers trying to take advantage of President’s Biden program.
The White House announced limited student loan debt forgiveness in August, with qualifying individuals and joint filers each able to get up to $10,000 of student loan debt forgiven, or double that amount if the person was awarded Pell grants for low-income students.
As is often the case when these sorts of scams crop up, aspiring cybercriminals quickly start “contacting potential victims via phone, email, mail, text, websites, or other online chat services,” the FBI said Tuesday.
The objective of student loan forgiveness scams are likely familiar: the FBI said fraudsters intend to either get paid for a service they’ve no intent to render, or to collect personally identifiable information (PII) for use in future crimes. We imagine this would be achieved by contacting someone interested in getting some of their student loans forgiven and, by pretending to be a government or bank official, tricking the mark into handing over their personal info to ostensibly arrange that forgiveness.
So ignore anyone who reaches out to you about the program; instead, go to the official website – see below – direct and apply there.
You just now noticed, FBI?
Following President Biden’s announcement of his debt relief program in August, the online application system borrowers can use to request that loan forgiveness entered beta mode on October 15, and this Monday it went fully live. More than eight million folks have already filed a request for forgiveness, said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
Long before that application was up and running on studentaid.gov, though, scammers were already in full effect. In May, the FTC warned that though there are various legit debt relief programs out there, the Biden-Harris one was not yet active, and any webpage or message claiming otherwise was trying to scam you.
“Student loan debt relief scammers are already here. But a federal student loan forgiveness program for all borrowers is NOT,” the FTC said ahead of the official launch of the Biden-Harris forgiveness program.
The New York Times took notice of student loan debt forgiveness scams in September, and provided many of the same tips the FBI is now advising students to consider to avoid falling victim.
As mentioned above, the FBI’s biggest point of advice is that the US government won’t charge any processing fees for the forgiveness program, so any mention of payment should be an immediate red flag.
“Entrance into or assistance with any federal student aid program through the Department of Education or their trusted partners never requires payment,” the FBI said.
The usual advice for avoiding a phishing attack applies, too: don’t open suspicious links or attachments, be sure to verify the website you’re on is the proper one, be cautious whenever entering PII into an online form, watch out for grammatical and spelling errors* that are telltale signs of a faked website, and be aware that similar scams come via phone calls, too.
It’s also not a bad idea to manually navigate to known sensitive websites, such as studentaid.gov, rather than follow links from text messages and emails – even if they appear to be from the Department of Education. Make sure you get the address right, though.
Finally, if you apply for loan forgiveness and get sent an email, you might want to check the headers to see that the message came from a genuine source. “Our emails to borrowers come from noreply@studentaid[.]gov, firstname.lastname@example.org[.]gov, or email@example.com[.]com,” the Dept of Education noted earlier. If you get a message about your application to the federal government, and it isn’t from one of those senders, treat it with caution or just ditch it. ®
* Inevitably and ironically, there will be a typo on this page.