Financial sharks are circling distressed student loan borrowers in New York.
As defaults hit a record, many local students, anxious for financial relief from their sky-high college loans — now totaling over $1.5 trillion nationwide — are turning to slick Wall Street con artists who promise to lower repayments, and to facilitate loan forgiveness.
But it’s a scam, say investigators.
“Consumers struggling with debt are prime targets for scammers looking to take advantage of them,” said Claire Rosenzweig, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau for metropolitan New York, announcing details last week of a string of recent scams reported by local student loan borrowers.
One borrower, who didn’t want her name disclosed, said she was called in April by a company known as National Student Loans stating she “qualified” for loan forgiveness, which is a rarity for most borrowers. The borrower said she was ultimately duped for $826.
“They knew my Social Security number, the names of my lenders and the specific amounts of my active student loans,” added the distraught borrower, who eventually caught on, and then contacted her bona fide financial loan servicer, which is now on the case.
In another swindle, a borrower behind on her student loan said she was bilked for $1,429 by a company also known as National Student Loans. The sinister sharks pretended they were servicing her debt. “I was scared and afraid of what could happen and asked them several times, ‘Are you legit?’ ” recalled that borrower, who also wished to remain anonymous.
The scammer in this case continued the ruse and talked the borrower into a bogus repayment plan of $199 monthly, on top of additional monthly payments of $39.
The borrower, divorced and a single mom, finally realized she’d been snared in a menacing scheme. “I felt they took advantage of a scared, desperate, single mother,” she recalled. “I feel they should give me my money back, so I can pay my student loan.”
These scam cases are just the tip of massive grand theft in the student debt market. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission announced charges against the operators of two so-called student loan debt-relief schemes and an affiliated financial company for tricking millions of dollars out of borrowers.
“Working with our law enforcement partners across the country, we have brought dozens of cases against debt-relief scams like these,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
But analysts are not surprised. More student loan borrowers are in distress, and taking the bait when scammers call. Some $89 billion worth of student loans was in default at the end of June, according to the New York Fed.
Borrowers overwhelmed by student debt can set up loan deferments, forbearance, repayments and forgiveness programs at no cost elsewhere, the Better Business Bureau noted.