4 Ways To Avoid The “Student Loan Tax” Scam

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Being on the hook for thousands of dollars in student loan debt is pressure enough for most people. They shouldn’t also have to worry about being taken advantage of by “student loan tax” fraudsters in what appears to be the latest iteration of the IRS impersonation scam.

The IRS, along with the Federal Trade Commission, are advising student loan borrowers about an emerging scam in which fraudsters posing as tax agents claiming they owe a hefty “federal student tax.”

Our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports found that the scam comes in several variations, but all aim for the same outcome: bilking money from unsuspecting consumers.

To appear legitimate, the scammers often use so-called caller ID spoofing that allows the call ID information on a borrowers’ phone to appear as “911” or the name of a government agency.

The caller then provides the borrower with a rundown of factual information about themselves, such as when they took out loans, how much they owe, and the name of their school.

Borrowers are then told the own a “federal student tax” — a fee that doesn’t actually exist — and directed to send payment using a MoneyGram wire transfer or other untraceable method.

While the IRS didn’t specify how much the imposters are asking for or how they received their information on students, CR was able to find student directories and websites that offered lists of colleges and university student data, including phone numbers.

“In more innocent times, college directories were a great convenience to help students find each other,” says Edgar Dworsky, a former Massachusetts assistant attorney general who founded Consumer World, a consumer resource site. “In these times, they are an invitation for telemarketers and scammers.”

Consumers who receive a possible scam-call are urged to report the suspected fraud to the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

To avoid being a victim of the new scam and others like it, CR and advocates suggest consumers who receive an unexpected phone call, email, text, or other communication that appears to come from the government or a company to:

#1. Be Wary — You don’t have to cooperate with these calls or inquiries. These legitimate agencies will never call unexpectedly or direct you to send immediate payment by wire or prepaid card.

#2. Check Authenticity — In the event you receive a phone call, try calling the number back. Instead of using the number on the ID or that the person provides, CR suggests searching for the contact information yourself. Do the same for emails.

#3. Keep Your Wallet Closed — The vast majority of these scammy calls or emails will ask the receiver to wire money in an untraceable method. Don’t do it.

#4. Don’t Provide Personal Info — In some cases, fraudsters aren’t looking for money, they want your personal information: Social Security numbers, addresses, bank accounts, among other things. Never provide this information.

As for the student tax scam, Dworsky suggests asking your college or university to limit or delete your contact information from its public campus directory, especially if it doesn’t require visitors to enter a user name and password.

Beware of the Federal Student Tax Scam [Consumer Reports]