EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Agents from the FBI’s El Paso office are warning the public of the potential for criminals to defraud those seeking federal student loan forgiveness.

FBI officials say scammers will aim to solicit personally identifiable information, financial information, or payment from potential victims using fraudulent websites, e-mails, texts, or phone scams.

“Scammers will constantly use their effective scam scenarios and tweak them to take advantage of a current situation effecting the community at large. The FBI typically sees this behavior when any new government aid program becomes available,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey R. Downey.

“The FBI is providing information to the public now to help people recognize the warning signs of potentially fraudulent activity related to the forgiveness of federal student loans. Don’t let a scammer trick you into revealing personally identifiable information or providing any type of payment. The U.S. government will not charge any type of processing fees or require any type of payment to have your federal student loans forgiven.”

Student Loan Forgiveness Program Background

On August 24, 2022, the Student Loan Debt Relief Plan was announced for individuals with incomes below $125,000, or joint filers with incomes below $250,000. Under the plan, the U.S. Department of Education will provide targeted student debt cancellation to borrowers with loans held by the U.S. Department of Education.

The loan forgiveness will provide up to $20,000 of debt cancellation for Pell Grant recipients, and up to $10,000 for non-Pell Grant recipients. For more information on debt cancelation, eligibility, and other specifics of the program, please visit: https://studentaid.gov.

Anticipated Fraudulent Activity

Cybercriminals and fraudsters may claim to help individuals into the Federal Student Loan Forgiveness program, contacting potential victims via phone, e-mail, mail, text, websites, or other online chat services.

Officials add that cybercriminals and fraudsters use their schemes to receive payment for services they will not provide or collect victim information they can then use to facilitate a variety of other crimes. 

Entrance into or assistance with any federal student aid program through the Department of Education or their trusted partners never requires any type of payment.

Scammers often use electronic (e-mail, text, website) communication methods to explain how a recipient qualifies for government aid and claim to need information or money from the victim to complete the application process.

They may e-mail or text the victim, with a body of text containing a link to follow.

Once a victim clicks on what is thought to be a legitimate link to the official federal website, the website will request personally identifiable information (PII) such as name, social security number, date of birth, current and previous addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, mother’s maiden name, or social media handles to complete the process. This PII can be used to conduct additional fraudulent activity at the victim’s expense.

Websites may solicit financial information such as bank account and routing numbers, credit or debit card numbers, digital wallet addresses, or other peer to peer money service transfer account information to process an application fee or complete the application process.

Phone scammers may call victims claiming to be representatives of a bank or the Department of Education and ask for the victim’s PII and financial information to begin the application process for loan repayment.

Tips to Protect Yourself

  • Remember: The U.S. government will not charge processing fees, in any type of currency – traditional or cryptocurrencies.
  • Do not open links or download images or files from suspicious e-mail addresses.
  • Always consult official U.S. government websites, such as https://studentaid.gov.
  • Confirm any information regarding loan repayment with the financial institution or company providing the loan.
  • Exercise caution when entering any PII or financial information on websites.
  • Ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors on the website or in the e-mail. This may indicate a potential scam.

If You Are a Victim

If you are a victim of an Internet scam, the FBI recommends taking the following actions:

  • Contact your financial institution immediately to stop or reverse the transactions. Ask your financial institution to contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer was sent.
  • Report the activity to the online payment service used for the financial transaction.
  • Preserve any transaction information, including prepaid cards and banking records and all telephone, text, or e-mail communications.
  • Report to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov as quickly as possible.
  • Monitor your financial accounts and credit reports for fraudulent activity.
  • Report the fraud to the Department of Education at https://studentaid.gov/feedback-center and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint.

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