The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit Feb. 9, 2017, against three interrelated student loan debt relief companies for allegedly violating Section 5 of the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
The FTC issued a press release saying that the defendants illegally charged thousands of consumers more than $28 million. The defendants also falsely promoted that these monthly payments would be applied to their student loans, according to the FTC’s complaint.
The FTC claimed the defendants sent consumers mailers telling them they qualified for a federal program that would either minimize their monthly payments or provide total loan forgiveness. According to the FTC, the mailers are deceptive and misleading; while the Department of Education does offer loan forgiveness programs, they are very strict and most consumers don’t qualify. And none of the programs ensure consumers will be given a fixed, lower rate for longer than a year.
The defendants also allegedly charged consumers up to $800 in upfront fees under the guise of enrolling them in a loan assistance program. Consumers paid additional fees to be enrolled in a “financial education program” as well as a monthly membership fee.
The FTC claimed that consumers falsely believed these monthly payments would be applied to their student loans. However, none of the money that consumers paid to the defendants was put toward their student loans. And the defendants reportedly often declined requests from consumers to refund their money or paid them back considerably less.
While the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau is expected to scale back on enforcing consumer protection statutes, the FTC has increased their efforts to target debt relief scams.
In October, the FTC joined forces with 11 states and the District of Columbia to announce “Operation Game of Loans.” This coordinated initiative takes action against companies that falsely promise consumers student loan relief. This most recent lawsuit is the eighth action taken by the FTC since the inception of Operation Game of Loans.
To avoid falling prey to these types of scams, borrowers should avoid any companies that are offering quick loan forgiveness or require large upfront fees. Borrowers who need relief from their student loan payments can apply for forgiveness or income-based repayment plans directly through their loan servicer.