Ahhhhh, student loans. The soul-crushing and income-sucking price that many of us pay for a slip of paper that may or may not advance our futures. The constant reminder that we ain't sh*t and that we will be under the government's thumb for the next 10 to infinity years.
A while back I got one of those familiar phone calls.
"Hello! We'd like to help you consolidate your student loans and get you a lower monthly payment!"
Oh, do you now?
This call came at a weird time for me and I felt pretty burdened by my $450 payments for my private loans and my $230 payments for my government loans. I had some help from a savings account my parents set up for me when I was a kid, but I knew it wouldn't last forever. As a teacher in a public school at the time whose salary had been frozen, I took the call as a sign that someone was trying to actually help me.
They said they were with the Department of Education. They sent me some legitimate looking forms for the company. I read them. It sounded like any other paperwork I'd signed for anything else. Was I tired that day? Was I delirious? It's hard to say. This took place in December before Winter break. Have you ever tried to talk to a teacher in the weeks before Winter break?
Not. A. Good. Idea.
They told me as a teacher I was qualified for a lower payment. Hooray! They rambled off rules about how this was possible under Obama's student loan bill. They told me they'd be consolidating my loans into one big chunk instead of a bunch of little chunks. I genuinely believed them. So much so that I filled out the paperwork and signed my name electronically on the dotted line.
In February my loans were consolidated with the company, paying off the previous company I'd been with, Great Lakes. I started getting the lower payment of $108 withdrawn from my account each month. Everything seemed fine and dandy.
I was a self-proclaimed adult doing all kinds of awesome adulty things.
Unfortunately, the first red flag did not come until I received a piece of mail from Fed Loan Servicing, also claiming to be a part of the Department of Education. Hmm, that's odd, I thought as I took a second look at the letter.
The weirdest thing? It was a student loan bill. For $0.
I figured it was a mistake and called the company the next day. They explained to me that I'd consolidated my loans and was signed up for an income-driven repayment plan. And according to my income, I wasn't required to pay anything for a while.
Even more strange, I didn't remember signing up for a second loan company's services. Again, I blamed my lack of memory on my teacher fatigue. Maybe I'd accidentally checked some box while signing up with the other company.
I shoved the letter in a drawer and figured it was just a random mistake. The letters kept coming. Again, I shoved them away, still curious about why one company was claiming I owed $0 and the other taking $108 out of my account each month. I told myself I would get around to calling them eventually.
Then I moved to New York and quickly got caught up in my day to day hustle. My to-do list became quickly filled with comedy shows, internship commitments, and a relationship.
Everything was on auto-pilot with my student loans until my parents forwarded me some more mail from Colorado. More odd student loan bills for $0. Finally, I decided to make the call to clarify what was going on. It was a mistake. Somebody hadn't had their coffee and had screwed up paperwork.
After an extensive and teary phone call with Patricia, my loan representative homegirl trying to explain to me what was happening, I finally learned the truth.
"But wait a minute," I cried. "I've been paying $108 a month toward my loan payment!"
"It shows here that you haven't paid anything," she said.
"That's impossible. Then where's my money going?! I've been paying this whole time!"
"No," she said calmly. "You haven't. You've been paying a middleman. And that middleman hasn't paid us anything. I'm so sorry to tell you this, but you may have been scammed."
I was utterly shocked. I rushed to my computer to check my bank statements. I was out just over $1,000 dollars in the past nine months. In the grand scheme of things it wasn't a lot, but to me, unemployed and living in Brooklyn on borrowed time until my savings ran out, it might as well have been $1 million.
I traced down the old emails with the contract and tried to understand the language. I needed to know every little detail that led to this and how I was going to get this money back from these scamming trolls.
What happened exactly, you ask?
The fake company consolidated my loans, then signed me up with another loan company (a.k.a. the real one) for an income-driven plan with, get this, a completely bogus email that I couldn't access, thereby locking me out of my account and keeping me in the dark until the letters started coming in the mail.
Alright. So this totally sucks. And now I'm starting to feel like the world is crumbling down around me because I can't believe I'm actually dumb enough to have fallen for this nonsense. But to be honest, this kind of thing is happening more and more to people. I even talked to a friend who said a scammer texted her saying her brother had been hit by their car and that she needed to send them thousands of dollars immediately or they'd kill him.
People are literally the worst.
Luckily, I'm here to tell you there are a few ways that you can avoid getting scammed like I did. Or, in the event that you've already been hit by a fraud, how to recover:
1. Don't answer your phone for numbers you don't know.
If it's THAT important, they'll leave a damn voicemail. You have no binding obligation that says you have to talk to anybody. Especially if what they're offering sounds...
2. ...like it's too good to be true. Because it probably is.
Truth be told, people don't usually want to give you things out of the kindness of their own hearts. There is always a price to be paid. Keep your guard up. Ask the hard questions. Take notes. If they can't give you the answers you need or keep trying to offer you more seemingly amazing things. GTFO of there.
3. Talk about it with as many people as you can before making a decision or signing anything.
Get some feedback. If you are unable to judge if you're doing the right thing, call someone to get another perspective. Or five. And might I suggest calling a dad. Doesn't have to be your dad. But seriously get a dad on the phone. They know what they're talking about.
4. Read reviews for the company.
Chances are, there's got to be some trace of them on the internet, especially if people have been scammed by them before and are speaking out about it.
Check out The Better Business Bureau to see if they are listed as a business that has had previous complaints or lawsuits. Also, check out this list of super sketch "loan companies" that will steal your money faster than you can say "bankruptcy."
5. Give yourself time to think this through.
Is this really going to benefit your life? At what cost? Do you trust this company? Why exactly are they calling you and HOW THE HELL DID THEY GET YOUR PHONE NUMBER?
You should be asking yourself all kinds of questions because the sad truth of it is, "somebody is always lookin' to steal your time and your money." My dad told me that. He was right.
6. Be wary of "hidden fees and services."
Repeat this with me: "I will not give money to someone just because they tell me to. It's my money. And I need it NOW."
Okay, so I got that last part from a J.G. Wentworth commercial. But seriously. Any kind of "fee" for a "service" is flat out B.S.
A real student loan company will never charge you a fee. You know what they will do, they'll make you pay back your loans. And if you don't, they'll charge you interest. But no fees.
7. In the event that you've just discovered you're being scammed...CALL YOUR BANK.
This one seems pretty simple, but they are honestly your best bet when this sh*t hits the fan.
There are a lot of things you can do right away, like a stop payment on your account to try to block the scammers from getting into your money in the future.
What this does is assign a person to check your account every day to check for fishy stuff. You should also...
8. File a claim/start an investigation.
There are no guarantees with these things, but you'd only be increasing your chances of getting that money back if you file a claim, start an investigation, or go full-out savage and sue their scammy butts.
You can file a complaint with the BBB to get started as well as contact your local Attorney General's Office to see if they can help you out.
What the BBB will do is try to talk directly to the company to resolve the issue. My complaint is currently 10 days in, so I'll get back to you on that if they actually catch these sketchy mother f***ers! But in the meantime...
9. Change your account information.
All of it. It's a huge pain in the you-know-where, but it's the only safeguard you have left to keep them out of your stuff.
I sat down with a banker today and the process isn't so bad once they walk you through it. Get a new card, new account numbers, the whole deal. You'll have to change anything that's on auto-pay, so there's that.
But like I said, worth it. TRY TAKING MY MONEY NOW, YOU SCAMMY PEASANTS.
10. Write a review.
If you've gone through this like me, you probably feel completely helpless, emotionally fatigued, and also broke AF because these a-holes have taken money from you and couldn't give two single sh*ts about you. That being said, you certainly don't want them to keep getting away with this nonsense.
We can take our power back by bringing attention to them and what they do to people like us. They prey on students burdened with debt, lie to us, and are costing us money we don't have (seriously, is it legal to start a GoFundMe for my student loans? ASKING FOR A FRIEND).
So get online and write a review, blog about it, and tell everyone you know. The more people know about them the less power they have.
Stay informed, my friends.[Feature Image Courtesy Easy Solutions]