I've got a bad feeling about this.
July 1, 2014 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Received a panic-inducing document marked "SECOND NOTICE" concerning my student loans today. It states it's from a "consumer advocacy group," but makes some ridiculous claims and includes no organization name or contact information except for a phone number. Should I bother to report it? And, if so, to what entity?

It's a single sheet of paper that was folded, with perforated tear-away seals on either end, resembling other documents I've received from the agency that services my loans. The closed document reads "Federal Student Loan Notice" and "SECOND NOTICE" in the return address area. (I don't want to post a photo, as it contains identifying information about me and my student loan debt. Suffice it to say that it looked similar enough to other loan documents I've received in font, layout, etc. that it made me second-guess myself, even though I know that I'm up to date on my loan payments.)

The inside of the document refers to my current loan balance and to changes to federal law that affect loan forgiveness. It states that I "must call the Student Loan Assistance Program within 30 days of receiving this notice to receive federal benefits," and that "interest rates will double in 2014," among other things.

I realize that this is not legit. However, this strikes me as a really shitty, predatory thing to do. I've looked at what the Department of Education and the FTC have to say about reporting student aid fraud, but this isn't actually fraud, unless I were to send them some kind of payment and then not receive the "federal benefits" they've promised. Still, though - is there some government entity or other consumer advocacy group that keeps track of these kinds of things? Is it worth sending this information to the FTC or Department of Education anyway?
posted by Austenite to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Bin it and forget about it. Trying to get back at every scammer is a recipe for crazy.
posted by colin_l at 9:42 PM on July 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: So just to clarify, this letter contains private information about your student loan debt, yet does not come from the agency that services your loans? If it is coming from a debt collector that the servicing agency has hired, there are statutory requirements for them to clearly identify them as such. Since you say the letter is supposedly from an unnamed "consumer advocacy group", this means that it is likely a scam of some kind.

Still, it is hard to understand how this group acquired private information about your student debt. There are two likely possibilities: one is the student loan servicer illegally sold your information to a scammy debt councilor, and the other is the scammer illegally pulled your credit report.

Either way, if you haven't already, get your free annual credit report from here. This is the website the CRAs were required to set up by federal law. Make sure you recognize everything on there, and make sure all the information is correct. Check the "Inquiries" section carefully and see if there is anyone you don't recognize as authorized to pull your credit report.

Also, definitely report this letter to your state Attorney General. They will have a whole office dedicated to investigating this kind of consumer fraud.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:53 PM on July 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check your loans for free on the federal government site here. I've been harassed by the evil Sallie Mae/Nelnet/Student Assistance Co. bullshit and it was very helpful to be able to look up my loans on that site to confirm that all of my loans are A-OK and that the evil calls and email are just evil and fake.

I've also put my number in the Do Not Call list, which would be helpful, if that issue arises for you.
posted by miss tea at 3:19 AM on July 2, 2014

This is a well-established tactic used by a whole raft of underhanded companies, intended to trick you into refinancing an existing debt. Ever since we started having my mom's mail forwarded to us, I've noticed the same sort of "Second Notice" letters coming to her, usually for mortgage refi.

It's junk mail. Toss it.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:25 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Consumer Law Center. Whether or not the communication falls short of fraud, reporting it to agencies devoted to protecting consumers in the debt markets is useful.

There are also a number of lobbying groups, dedicated to student loan access, debt protection, and similar issues (FinAid.org, itself a sort of student loan advocacy group--it's a private compendium of info about student loans in the US). You might contact some of them as well.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:09 AM on July 2, 2014

Best answer: Something helpful for similar things is the type of mailing. Presort Standard (marked by the postage) is for bulk, unpersonalized mail only. What this means is that they can't include any specific details that pertain to you, and it's almost always junk or spam. Presort First Class mail, while still for bulk mailings, allows personalized information. This type is more likely to be authentic and applicable specifically to you.

This is an easy way to tell if a piece of mail is actually important or not. Presort Standard you can pretty much ignore.
posted by Gneisskate at 7:52 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's a scam. Shred it and toss it in the trash.

Here's a very easy way to tell in the future:

Legitimate debt collection notices are required by Federal law to be sent by First Class Mail or better. Check the area where a stamp would normally go. If the "Postage Paid" mark says something resembling "Standard," "PRESRT STD," or anything like that, it's junk mail.

I get these all the time, nearly always Presort Standard (even if it's made to look like a FedEx or Priority Mail envelope), usually offering to refinance credit card debt, or my mortgage. I look at these with a very skeptical eye, particularly if there's no return address, or the name of the company they want me to call is never mentioned. Usually I shred them and toss them out.
posted by tckma at 8:11 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a (phish-y) refinancing offer. I get teh same thing all the time regaring my mortgage. Ususally the loan balance will be slightly higher than your real loan balance because their info is a few months out of date.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:45 AM on July 2, 2014

Response by poster: So just to clarify, this letter contains private information about your student loan debt, yet does not come from the agency that services your loans? If it is coming from a debt collector that the servicing agency has hired, there are statutory requirements for them to clearly identify them as such.

It says, "We are a consumer advocacy group. We are not debt collectors." It does contain information about my total loan balance. I'll definitely check the inquiries on my credit report; thanks - my credit was just checked as part of a background check for a new job; perhaps something that shouldn't have happened snuck in there?

It looks like this was actually sent Presort First Class.
posted by Austenite at 3:03 PM on July 2, 2014

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