Student loan scam warning: A cautionary tale

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Student loans
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Around graduation time, young people headed to college are full of optimism and stoked about what the future may hold. Many of them are inundated with decisions about what college courses to pursue and schools to choose. It’s a busy time.

But equally as busy are criminals who target recent high school graduates with too-good-to-be-true offers that end up causing heartache, pain and empty bank accounts. With student loan debt in the United States around $1.3 trillion, thieves are plotting to get their hands in that kitty.

How one high school graduate nearly fell into a student loan scam

Earlier this month, Matthew Avery, a recent high school graduate from Atlanta, Georgia, was ecstatic about a phone call he received. The man on the other end of the line said that Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was going to give him $9,000 to attend college in the fall.

“He then told me that to avoid taxes on the money, I had the option to purchase a $200 registration card from any store that supports federal grants, such as Western Union, Family Dollar, and Walmart,” Avery told Team Clark. “He instructed me to call back from the parking lot of the store and ask for his name…so that he can walk me through the steps.”

After running some errands, Avery said he called the man back once he was outside a store that he thought might have the registration cards. “He asked me how would I like the grant money, and I told him, ‘Deposited into my bank account.'”

Avery said that he checked inside the store for the card, but they didn’t have it.

Later that day, Avery, along with his parents, grew suspicious when they did some research about FAFSA and realized that the phone number the man was calling from was not affiliated with the organization.

“We then called FAFSA directly,” Avery said, “and they told us that FAFSA will never call you but will always email you. They also said you never, under any circumstances, have to pay money for government assistance and that the man who called me was a scam artist.”

RELATED: 3 things to know about student loan forgiveness

Avery’s tale is a too-familiar one in this day and age. Thankfully, he sniffed it out before he lost his money. But how can you be sure that fraudsters aren’t trying to pull a fast one when it comes to student loans?

Here are some other things that Clark Smart people should be aware of when it comes to student loans:

  • Repayment assistance programs, like Income-Based Repayment (IBR), are available free of charge to borrowers of federal student loans.
  • Several websites offer help (for a fee) filing the FAFSA form. Because these sites aren’t affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education, the government discourages students from using these resources. The official FAFSA form is at FAFSA.gov, and you can get help for FREE.
  • Always be wary of a debt relief company promising to negotiate your student loan with your creditor. The federal student loan program simply doesn’t allow third-parties to work out deals for you.
  • Report any company or person that claims to be able to “clear” your student loan or if you’ve been scammed. They may be in violation of federal law. To report financial fraud, you can contact the FBI at 202-324-3000 or online at https://tips.fbi.gov.  You may also choose to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office where you are located or where the fraud was committed.

Have you fallen victim to a student loan scam? If so, please share your story in the comments.

More Clark.com stories on student loans and scams you might enjoy:

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Craig Johnson is a conscious money-saver who stills read paperback books and listens to vinyl. He likes to write about how technology is making things easier and more affordable — but also sometimes more dangerous — for the modern consumer.
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