With the growing problem of young people who are struggling to pay off hefty student loan debt, scammers have stepped in to take action…and take advantage. Much like the scams that once targeted homeowners with promises of relief from variable rate mortgages, students are the next crop of unwitting victims.

These new scams target unsuspecting students and recent graduates with promises of lower interest rates, lower total payoff amounts, and even outright forgiveness of the entire debt. That’s a pretty enticing promise considering the original borrowed amount and the extreme interest payments some students face. It’s also not an entirely unheard of idea; there are many programs for lowering your credit card interest rates, renegotiating a loan amount, and even forgiving certain types of educational financial aid, making the scam even more plausible. Rather than preying on gullible people, these scams work overtime to reach highly educated individuals and therefore must seem believable.

There are genuine consumer assistance programs out there, and they are designed to help individuals who are facing overwhelming debt. Through credit counseling and debt consolidation, these experts can help steer you in the right direction towards paying off your loans in a way that is productive but doesn’t leave you eating rice and beans three meals a day. Unfortunately, when looking for these legitimate programs, you’re very likely to come across scams or be targeted with flashy sidebar ads that make outrageous debt-forgiveness promises.

One of the first manifestations of this type of scam isn’t actually illegal, but it still preys on victims who are already burdened with an overbearing debt. By charging massive, undisclosed “fine print” fees for signing up, some of which can reach well over a thousand dollars, consumers who’ve reached out for help may find themselves in equally difficult financial straits.

Of course, other versions are nothing more than bait-and-switch cons which promise a lower interest rate but actually result in a longer payoff period, meaning the consumer actually pays more in the long run. Still other scams do literally nothing that the student could not have done for himself, while also taking all of his personal identifiable information in the process. Turning over the large amounts of sensitive personal data required for any kind of loan application process can leave the door wide open for identity theft if your information is not protected.

In order to protect yourself from the risks associated with financial scams, do your homework. First, investigate the options that are laid out by the loan issuer. The US government does have student loan forgiveness options if you meet the right criteria. There are also programs that will help recent graduates forgive their debt in exchange for a few years of service within the country, like agreeing to teach in a public school located in a poverty area. Barring an actual erasure of the debt, a credit counselor can help with lowering your interest rates, consolidating some of your debt into one easy-to-manage loan, and setting up a workable schedule of payments that meets your financial needs.

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