Before I dive into those scammers (one of my favorite topics – simply because I love SAVING San Diego people from these criminals), some good news on the “The IRS Might Not Be a Total Dumpster Fire in 2023” front.
Because a few days ago, the IRS achieved one of its hiring goals: 4,000 new customer service employees to help with the 2023 tax season (and 1,000 more before the end of the year). That said, the IRS says the phones will still be pretty busy and will ALWAYS urge people to use IRS.gov to find answers first. But of course…
From what I’ve seen over the past few years from lots of San Diego people, even if you call, you may or may not always get the answers you are looking for. Because everyone’s tax situation is unique and asking the right questions can be difficult if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for or how the tax code works.
Obviously, if you have tax issues – that’s what we’re here for. I am probably sharing this with you in a semi-transparent effort to help you understand: it’s way better working with Team Top Hat Tax & Financial Services than going it alone.
And there’s still time to put a dent in your 2022 tax burden. Let’s talk:
Moving on, and back to the fun stuff: catching fraudsters. Because there’s a new front on this battle: student loan forgiveness scams.
Now that the student loan forgiveness legislation has gone through and the application process has opened, a lot of people with that college debt hanging over them are ready to jump in head first. And if that’s you, you might be jumping into shark-infested waters – because new student loan forgiveness scams are popping up everywhere.
So let’s dive into those waters (but, you know, inside a safety cage)…
“It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money.” – – W.C. Fields
If you or someone you know has student loans from higher education, you’ve probably heard about the huge federal program to forgive that debt. You’ve also probably heard that courts have put a hold – temporary or otherwise – on the forgiveness. So as far as student loan forgiveness goes, most of us aren’t sure how to proceed right now.
But you know who is? Scammers. These relentless folks have been cooking up schemes to sucker people regarding their student loan forgiveness. This means you need to know how to spot them and protect yourself from falling afoul of them. Let’s take a look.
Average debt, the obvious draw
Forgiving student loans has a clear appeal: The average borrower owes almost 40 grand for their loans – and about one in seven is behind on paying that money back.
The forgiveness program can free debtors of up to 20 grand in non-private loans that they received before last June 30. The program is slightly different if you didn’t get a Pell Grant, and there are income limits to qualify for forgiveness. (A single loan holder must have made 125 grand or less in 2020 or 2021.)
On the official application from the Financial Student Aid Office (FSA) of the U.S. Department of Education, you give your full name, Social Security number, date of birth, phone number, and email. Some applicants will be contacted and required to provide proof of income. A paper application is supposedly in the works.
The White House says eight million borrowers signed up on the initial weekend to be first in line for forgiveness. Generally, it’ll take four to six weeks for the forgiveness to be approved (when and if the program continues).
“First in line” is often where scammers come in. One of their promises is that they can speed up the process for you – for a fee. (This breed of attempted rip-off is nothing new, by the way. During the pandemic, you probably got sent a lot of junk labeled “pandemic grant” or “Biden loan forgiveness.”)
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), here’s what scammers often claim versus what’s true:
- Apply through us. You apply at the link we linked to above – here it is again – and nowhere else.
- Slip us a few bucks to grease the wheels. Do not pay to apply for loan forgiveness; it’s free. Anyone who says you need to pay is looking, as the saying goes about suckers, to make sure you don’t get an even break. There is no shortcut to approval or loan forgiveness.
- Click to attach a copy of your bank PIN and an outline of your house key … Like we said above (again), the real application will ask for your name, birth date, SSN, phone number, and email address. Nobody should ask you for your bank or credit card info. You don’t have to upload anything at the get-go.
- By the way, could you send- After you apply, the feds may get in touch for tax documents verifying your income and possibly to let you know the status of your application. These emails will only come from the addresses email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. Read these emails as carefully as you did any question on your college finals. Scammers will no doubt employ close approximations in email addresses. Look for even the slightest typos.
- Get approval for one low low fee. How about no low low fee? If your forgiveness application is denied, there’s a federal process to appeal – and anybody who tells you they can do otherwise for a little cash is lying. Your email notice will have the appeal instructions.
FSA also has a phone line for applicants at (833) 932-3439. The FTC has warned of long wait times.
Have you seen one of these student loan forgiveness scams? Email the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
You fell for it – fight back
Did you bite on one of the student loan forgiveness scams? If so, let us help you start covering your bases.
First, contact the FSA here to file a complaint. You can also report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission and our state attorney general’s office. You’ll help authorities catch these guys – and you may get your money back.
Next, let your bank or credit card company know. They can shut down your payment to the scammer.
It’s unfortunate that when a government program intended to help taxpayers ends up being exploited by scammers. Here’s where I urge you to take heed of the above article. Being informed is the start of prevention.
And, if you want to discuss the whole student loan forgiveness situation or your tax situation, well, we’re here for that too.
At your service,
Darryl A. Hale, EA, MBA, MST