Frustrated female college student looking at laptop monitor
Frustrated female college student looking at laptop monitor

4 ways to spot a student loan cheat

And 4 action steps for those who’ve been targeted

College students may learn a lot, but even a summa cum laude grad can be taught the lessons of loan fraud the hard way.

Every year, borrowers struggling to cover federal college loans are tricked into paying fees to companies offering to help manage their debt, even improve credit ratings. NerdWallet has counted more than 130 student loan debt relief entities that borrowers should be wary of.1 One company alone has been charged with allegedly collecting $3.5 million in illegal fees from 2015 to 2019.2 Others may use deceptive practices to trick students and parents into paying fees for help applying for financial aid.3

With the average student loan balance at nearly $30,000,4 there is no shortage of opportunists. Fortunately, common sense and level-headed thinking are all that’s needed to throw the book at a fraudster. Here are four ways to spot a loan cheat, offered by Federal Student Aid (FSA) and others.

The servicer asks for an up-front payment. This fee is to cover the “cost” of reviewing and determining loan payments. But here’s the thing: A provided loan servicer – a company already assigned to take care of billing and servicing financial aid – will do that for free. The FSA’s free online repayment estimator can help determine the best loan repayment plan, including for those struggling to make payments.

The servicer asks for identifying information. Giving an FSA password to a stranger is like handing over a blank check. An FSA ID entry has the same legal status as a written signature and can be used to sign legally binding documents electronically. This could enable the debt-relief source to act on behalf of the loan holder, including to make decisions about the loans. If servicer makes no payments, the loan holder is still responsible for all debt – plus interest and late fees.

They promise to make it go away now. Immediate loan forgiveness, or cancellation, is not a thing. Most government forgiveness programs require years of payments and/or employment in certain fields before forgiving the debt. A loan servicer can help determine if someone qualifies for forgiveness due to a job, disability, or if a school closes.5

They make it urgent. The sales representatives at companies offering student loan relief are usually paid on commission, so they apply pressure. A sales rep might say the offer is only available for a limited time. Don’t bite: A legitimate loan program is never available for “only a limited time.”

What to do if you detect a scam

If you or someone you know has signed up with a third-party student loan relief organization, there are options for protection.

  • Change the FSA ID. If an FSA ID has been shared, or if a loan holder suspects it has been hacked, the password should be changed immediately. It’s a good practice to change passwords every six months or so.
  • Get in touch with your loan servicer. Find out if actions have been taken on the loans and revoke third-party authorization agreements (such as power of attorney) that the servicer has on file. One can find help locating a loan servicer here.
  • Stop payments via bank or credit. Anyone targeted should contact the operators of all active credit cards and their bank to halt payments to the student loan debt relief company.
  • Contact the feds. Consumers can report identity theft and start a recovery plan with the Federal Trade Commission’s page; they can submit complaints about financial products or services to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and they can seek assistance with their state attorneys general.

Life is full of lessons, and we should build on them. Those trying to pay off student loans can get help without paying fees: The U.S. Department of Education offers loan forgiveness programs and ways to reduce student loan payments. Application is free through an official loan servicer.

One of the smartest ways to reduce college loan debt is to save in advance. If you or someone you know would benefit from a student savings plan now, First Financial has multiple choices.

Interested in some first-student tips on how to financially prepare for college? Learn more, here.

1 "How to Spot Student Loan Repayment Scams,” by Anna Helhoski, NerdWallet, May 5, 2021,

2 “Scammers are promising to get your student loans forgiven. Be wary,” by Annie Nova, CNBC, March 17,2021,

3 “CFPB Takes Action Against Nationwide Student Financial Aid Scam,” Press Release, Consumer Financial Services Bureau, Oct. 29, 2015,

4 “Scammers are promising to get your student loans forgiven. Be wary,” by Annie Nova, CNBC, March 17,2021,

5 “Student Loan Forgiveness,” Federal Student Aid,

The information on this page is accurate as of July 2021 and is subject to change. First Financial Bank is not affiliated with any third-parties or third-party websites mentioned above. Any reference to any person, organization, activity, product, and/or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement. By clicking on a third-party link, you acknowledge you are leaving First Financial Bank is not responsible for the content or security of any linked web page. Member FDIC / Equal Housing Lender.


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