Student loan forgiveness has been a big topic on the campaign trail recently but it is still more of a concept than a reality, creating attractive opportunities for scammers.
In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that his office has shut down a California-based company that was allegedly operating an illegal student loan forgiveness scheme that took advantage of Pennsylvanians.
“The settlement my office negotiated today ensures this company won’t be able to scam hardworking Pennsylvanians struggling to pay off their student loans. Under this agreement, the company must cease operations in Pennsylvania and return $74,000 to PA consumers,” said Shapiro. “Consumers should remember: Only scammers promise fast loan forgiveness. Consumers should never pay upfront fees for help.”
The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General entered into a settlement in the form of an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) with Unified Holding Group, LLC, which does business as “Student Education Center” (“SEC”). The AVC requires the company to cease operations in Pennsylvania, refund $74,000 in fees Pennsylvania consumers paid the company, and pay $50,000 in costs and penalties.
According to investigators, SEC made telephone calls to Pennsylvania consumers and offered their services to reduce or eliminate consumers’ student loan debt; used false advertising tactics on its website; and posted fraudulent reviews – purporting to be from customers all over the country – on the Better Business Bureau’s website.
SEC’s website stated that once a consumer was approved, they were “all set up with the new servicer,” when, in fact, SEC was not a servicer and typically did not change the borrower’s servicer. The AVC also alleges that SEC tricked more than 200 consumers into paying hundreds to thousands of dollars in fees for enrolling them into Income Driven Plans (“IDR”), which are free to enroll in.
“SEC took $4000 from me. I am a single mother, and every little bit of money matters for us,” said Carrie Airhart, a Pennsylvania consumer affected by SEC. “I was contacted by an investigator, and they pinpointed that there was a concern about the account because my demographic information changed. The change caused me to not receive any of the calls or emails. Once I worked with the investigator, I discovered the company was fraudulent, and called the PA Office of Attorney General. They helped me recoup the entire investment. They made the process really seamless for me.”
Pennsylvanians who need help with IDR or other loan repayment programs can obtain free help from Summer, a social enterprise that Pennsylvania has previously partnered with to provide free student loan assistance for all Pennsylvania residents during the COVID-19 emergency. No consumer should ever pay a company that promises to lower their student loan payments.
Any student who has paid this company for student loan services can file a complaint at www.attorneygeneral.gov.