MILWAUKEE — During COVID-19, you need to be closely following updates on federal programs and forbearance options when it comes to student loans. Consumer experts say con artists are capitalizing on any confusion you may have.
When UW-Milwaukee student Tom Madlon got a voicemail asking him to call back about a student aid relief program, he was already on guard.
"I had heard of a couple of people that had gotten the same type of call before," Madlon said.
"How much student loan debt do you have?" TMJ4 Consumer Investigator Kristin Byrne asked Madlon.
"Around $10 to $12 grand, somewhere in that neighborhood," he answered.
"Especially after this year, we take any win we can get," he said.
Madlon didn't return the call. He doesn't know what would have happened if he did.
Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection says if you get an unsolicited call and someone asks you to pay a fee to help you pay off your federal or financial aid, hang up.
Lara Sutherlin with DATCP says if you have a student loan, you need to stay up to date with federal programs and policies.
"Currently there is a federal forbearance that runs through January 2022, on your federal loans, not all of them, but many of them. And you don't have to do a thing to qualify for that," said Lara Sutherlin with DATCP.
Sutherlin says in some cases, callers want your personal information.
"They actually ask for not only your social security number, not only your credit card number, but they ask for information on how to log into your account," Sutherlin said.
"They log in, they change your address, they change your contact information, you're paying them a monthly fee and you think you're paying down your loan, and guess what? They're not," she added.
Madlon feels his skepticism saved him.
"They can already see that you are $10, $20, $30 thousand in debt, and they're still trying to take money from you. I just don't get how anyone can morally do that. It baffles me."
If you gave your personal information to one of these callers, the U.S. Department of Education says to reach out to your loan servicer and ask if there was a third-party authorization agreement placed on your file. If so, ask that it be revoked. Then call your bank and your credit card company and ask if any payments are going out to that agency. If there are, stop them.
It's important you also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.