WASHINGTON D.C. (WRIC) — People with student loan debt should be on the lookout for scams promising to help pay back loans.

Today, the Federal Trade Commission announced a joint effort with state law enforcement opposed to student loan debt relief scams. The operation includes seven actions filed by the FTC, with five new cases announced today.

In the FTC cases, the companies claimed to be affiliated with the government or the consumer’s loan servicer and promised to reduce or eliminate student loan debt. They told people they were “pre-approved,” “pre-qualified” or “qualified instantly,” then pressured them to sign up for their programs on the spot. Enrolling required consumers to pay illegal advance fees of up to $1,500.

So what did these companies actually do? Usually nothing. Consumers were often left worse off or received minimal help for services they could have gotten from their loan servicer or the U.S. Department of Education for free.

You don’t have to pay for help with your student loans. There’s nothing a company can do for you that you cannot do yourself for free. If you are a federal borrower, start with StudentAid.gov/repay. If you are a private borrower, start by talking with your loan servicer.

Here are some tips to avoid scams:

  • Never pay an up-front fee. It’s illegal for companies to charge you in advance before helping you. If you pay upfront to reduce or get rid of your student loan debt, you might not get any help – or your money back.
  • Only scammers promise fast loan forgiveness. Before they know your situation, scammers might say they can quickly get rid of your loans through a loan forgiveness program. But they can’t.
  • A Department of Education seal doesn’t mean it’s legit. Scammers use official-looking names and logos, and say they have special access to certain federal programs. They don’t.
  • Don’t share your FSA ID with anyone. Scammers could use it to get into your account and take control of your personal information.

For more resources on student loans, check here: ftc.gov/StudentLoans.

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