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Opinion: Avoid scammers as you apply for student loan forgiveness

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If you’ve read some of my past columns, you might remember me touting the phrase “constant vigilance” as a general mindset in dealings on the internet.

That’s because scammers run amok on the web. In our increasingly digital world, it’s probably their favorite territory.

Well, here we are again with a fresh target.

The federal government’s student loan forgiveness application process rolled out this month, and we’re already seeing scammers try to take advantage of the situation.

People with student loan debt likely want to get the process taken care of quickly, given the legal challenges that threaten to unravel the initiative. Unfortunately, these situations are where scammers thrive.

But there’s good news. Knowledge is the ultimate enemy of the scammer.

The more informed the consumer, the less likely they are to be scammed. It’s as simple as that.

Both the federal government and the Better Business Bureau have laid out steps to avoid scams when applying for student loan forgiveness.

Biden administration officials have said around 40 million Americans are eligible, so the potential for scams is high.

Most importantly, make sure you’re accessing the correct website. StudentAid.gov is the official website that’s been set up by the federal government for the student loan forgiveness application process.

Only use this website, and double check to make sure you’re on the right one by looking at the address bar and making sure the secure lock icon is there. Scammers could, for example, set up fake links via official-looking websites. This is a common tactic, and it can easily happen to anyone.

A different top-level domain can take you into scammer territory (the web address  StudentAid.com appears to be a scam, for example).

Again, being informed makes you the one with the edge.

Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission on avoiding student loan forgiveness scams:

  • Don’t pay to apply. The process is free.
  • The StudentAid.gov website asks for your name, birth date, Social Security number, phone number and address. You don’t have to upload or attach any documents when applying online.
  • When applying, you will not be asked for your Federal Student Aid identification, bank account or credit card information.
  • If your application is denied, follow the Department of Education’s process. After you apply, the department will communicate via emails. To be doubly safe, check the sender’s email address to avoid spoofing techniques.

The BBB further provides some tips to keep you on the safe side.

Before acting, research the terms of your student loans and relief program. If you get an out-of-the-blue phone call or text purporting to be from the federal government, there’s a good chance it’s a fake. And, even if the information you have came from a friend (or me), make sure to triple-check your research before committing.

It comes down to trusting your gut. If something feels fishy, it might be. And if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Even the battle-worn internet users constantly have to keep up to date to stay ahead of scammers. One might think, “I can’t possibly be tricked by scammers, because I already know their tricks.” View scammers like cockroaches. Even if you get rid of one, there are a bunch more lurking beneath the surface. It takes a knowledgeable and informed approach to deal with them.

Leave your pride at the door, so to speak, when using the internet, especially when finances are involved. Scams can happen to any of us.

Springfield Business Journal Digital Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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