Student loan debt in the United States is reaching all-time highs, which has meant borrowers are desperately seeking debt relief. Not coincidentally, a number of student loan assistance scams have popped up around the country. Their promises of full or partial debt relief are understandably appealing, especially if you happen to be one of 44 million student borrowers out there.

For a simple upfront payment, could you really be free from debt? Like most deals that sound too good to be true, it likely is. To date, there are over 50,000 complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) about student loans.

The CFPB has recognized this growing problem and issued notifications in recent years to all the big search engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Facebook. These companies have been urged to take action to “ensure their search products are not being used by scammers to prey on vulnerable student loan borrowers by implying an affiliation with the federal government,” according to a statement released by the CFPB.

However, it’s important to know how to protect yourself. Read on to learn how to spot a student loan assistance scam.

They Promise to Make Your Debt Disappear

There are legitimate methods of consolidating and refinancing your student loan debt. Neither option will make your debt disappear, and neither will reduce it. Instead, these options consolidate multiple old student loans into one new loan. The new loan may benefit from lower monthly payments and lower interest rates, but the total amount remains the same.

If a student aid organization is claiming they can make your student loan issues totally disappear, this is more than likely a scam. While there are many individual circumstances where a borrower can apply for total student loan forgiveness, cancellation, or discharge, these services are generally for extremely specific conditions. Plus, these options are readily available for free through your loan servicer.

Why You Can't Refinance Your Defaulted Student Loans

They Want You to Pay Upfront 

Under no circumstances should you ever have to pay an upfront fee, administration charge, or other costs to access debt relief. Debt relief doesn’t cost money. These student aid scams typically advertise that for a small upfront fee, or percentage, they can help renegotiate or reduce your debt. While you can technically hire legitimate companies to help you with this process, they should never demand any upfront costs.

You may have already noticed some lenders charge an origination fee (typically a percentage of the total loan). An origination fee is not an upfront charge. Origination fees should always come off when the funds are disbursed to you. Lenders do not require them during the application process or subsequent loan administration.

The Company Has Many Complaints

Before jumping in to seek help for your student loans, do a bit of online research. There are many websites out there documenting complaints about student aid or debt relief companies. Google the company you are planning to work with and see if they have complaints logged with the CFPB, the Better Business Bureau, or the Federal Trade Commission.

They Want You to Act Now

Finally, if any company, student aid organization, vacuum salesman, or otherwise, tries to pressure you with urgent sales tactics, steer clear. There should never be any pressure to sign on the dotted line before you are comfortable with the details of the agreement. Reputable student aid organizations or third-party lenders won’t rely on countdown pressure tactics.

In most cases, debt relief doesn’t have a deadline, and these opportunities are open year-round. Take your time and explore all your options, especially considering some companies could merely be using your money to navigate federal government programs provided for free.