My client received a check about student loan assistance in the mail, unsolicited, for $18,000!
My client is an elderly woman, in her late 70’s. Her life is like a lot of my clients – filled with ups and downs. That’s why she’s my client. But she’s no dummy. She brought me the check to look at before she did anything else with it. And, she does have some student loan debt. Like many, she co-signed her granddaughter’s student loan and helped out a friend by co-signing her friend’s daughter’s student loan. Her granddaughter is performing according to the terms of her loan – it isn’t in default. Her friend’s daughter, unfortunately, has defaulted; but so far, there have been no attempts to collect that debt from my client.
The “check” came attached to a letter. The letter appears, by design, to be from the federal government. There is no company or person named in the return address, but the street address is on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, and in all caps below that it says “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” Also, the letter is on one of those forms like the federal government uses. You know the ones: perforated at both ends, no envelope, tear off the ends, unfold the letter and WOW! There’s your check on the bottom, just like a good ol’ paycheck.
At the top of the pay stub it says in bold and all caps: “STATUS APPROVED,” followed by “Limited Availability[.] To secure your position call: 888.***.****.” Someone opening the letter and seeing the check, along with this language, the return address, and the form of the letter would likely think they’d been approved for some type of government benefit with a limited time to act. This is their lucky day!
Let’s take a closer look at the check, though. At the bottom, there appears to be an account number and a routing number. It says “PAY TO THE ORDER OF:” my client’s name followed by her home address. Next, the amount of the check is written out: “Eighteen Thousand Dollars and No Cents” followed by the Arabic Number “$18,000.00,” just like a normal check. At the very top of the check it says “DOCUMENT HAS A COLORED BACKGROUND. SECURITY FEATURES LISTED ON BACK.” followed by a tiny padlock graphic. On the back, there is a place for an endorsement. It even says “ENDORSE HERE,” has four lines like a check, the top one with an “X” at the beginning to designate where to begin endorsing. At the bottom, below the last line it says “DO NOT WRITE, STAMP OR SIGN BELOW THIS LINE[.] RESERVED FOR FINANCIAL INSTITUTION USE[.]”.
Looks legitimate! Turning it over it says “VOID AFTER THIRTY DAYS.” Better hurry and cash this sucker.
Wait. What’s this in the smallest print on the whole document? “THIS IS NOT A LIVE CHECK[.]”.
That’s odd. Upon further inspection, there is no bank named on the check or any other type of financial institution. And what looks to be the account number is actually “1234568.” Pretty unusual if it really is an account number. Above the Arabic Number “$18,000.00,” it says “SAVINGS AMOUNT.” What’s that? I’ve never seen that on a check before. Maybe this isn’t a real check. Let’s take a closer look at the rest of the information on the pay stub.
On the stub my client is congratulated because “due to [her] high balances on her Student Loans [sic], [she has] qualified to participate in the NEW Student Loan Assistance Program or ‘SLAP’.”
Further, she is informed that “[i]t is imperative that [she] contact one of our advisors immediately at 888.***.**** to take advantage of the no cost consultation. Respond by [a date within a week of when she received the letter] to ensure your eligibility into one of our four available programs and call before she makes another payment!”
“Important Notice: Enrollment is limited in the city [where my client lives], [sic] call now before open enrollment closes.”
Further down the page it says:
“FAILURE TO RESPOND TO THIS NOTICE WILL AFFECT YOUR ELIGIBILITY[.]”
“The Student Loan Assistance Program.”
“SLAP Debt Benefits and Savings of $18,000 exclusively for [my client.]”
“Total Due, Debt Amount: $35,000[.]”
“SLAP PLAN NUMBER: SL60803-19905[.]”
“Total Debt Reduction To: $18,000[.]”
“SLAP Preapproved Debt Reduction Savings: $18,000[.]”
The “check” is a hoax. The whole letter is a hoax. There are so many misleading and downright false statements in that letter it is hard to know where to begin.
First, I called the number on the check. The phone was answered by a girl who sounded rather young. I asked her what this $18,000 “check” was for. She said it was a “voucher” for my client’s estimated savings on her student loan debt. Incredible.
A “voucher”, as used in this context means, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary “a form or check indicating a credit against future purchases or expenditures.” This is hardly a “voucher”. This is simply a gimmick to try to trick my client into calling this company so they can try to convince her to hire them and pay exorbitant sums for a service to enroll in a federally sponsored program. They are simply trying to sucker people into hiring the company with false and misleading statements. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- This company doesn’t have any idea how much student loan debt, if any, my client has. She certainly does not have $35,000 in student loan debt.
- This company has no idea if my client can save $18,000 or any money at all, under the programs established by the federal government to assist student loan borrowers. The amount my client could save, if any, depends on the program or programs for which she qualifies and her income.
- There is no “Secure Approval Code” or “SLAP PLAN NUMBER.” That’s something this company made up to make this check look like something my client is specially entitled to. She’s not; any federally guaranteed or funded student loan borrower can attempt to utilize these programs.
- Enrollment is certainly not limited to the city where my client lives. My client’s status for these programs hasn’t been approved, there is no “Limited Availability,” she doesn’t have to “secure her position,” and my client hasn’t “qualified to participate in the ‘NEW Student Loan Assistance Program’.” Anyone can be approved if they have government backed (as opposed to private) student loans. Again, these are all false statements designed to cause my client to rush to hire these fraudsters.
- The “voucher” is not “VOID AFTER THIRTY DAYS.” It’s not even a voucher in the first place. My client can’t cash it in for credit against her student loan debt or to get an additional $18,000 of student loans by submitting this document. And believe me, if my client were to call this company thirty days after the “voucher” was issued (and, by the way, conveniently there is no date of issuance on the voucher), this company would love to take her money to see what kind of government benefit for which my client would qualify.
- This company says my client was to call to “ensure [her] eligibility into one of our four available programs.” (Emphasis added.) These aren’t this company’s programs; they are offered to all federally funded student loan borrowers under programs managed by an agency of the U.S. Department of Education. Google “National Student Loan Data System” and you’ll find everything you need to know about the availability of these programs.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, as of 2016, there is more than $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans. One in six borrowers (3.6 million) are in default on $56 billion in student loan debt. The amount of that debt and its effect on the economy is predicted to be a major issue in the coming years. There are concerns that people burdened with student loan debt put off or don’t qualify to buy housing; marriages are being delayed, there is insufficient savings for college, and even the nation’s food supply could be at risk. As a result, many in Congress are pushing for additional programs to aid student loan borrowers.
The opportunities for chicanery are great. I have no student loan debt, yet a couple of weeks ago I received a robocall telling me to call a number and to act quickly to take advantage of a new special program to assist in the payment of my student loan debt. The unsavory will continue to try to peddle their unscrupulous schemes. Had my client not come to me and ‘cashed’ the voucher she could end up owing money rather than experiencing debt relief.
At Hinkle Law Firm LLC, we can advise you as much or as little as you need to attempt to resolve your student loan debt. Some may be comfortable using the information from the NSLDS website to address their concerns. Others may want the advice of a lawyer. At Hinkle Law Firm, we’re happy to help in whatever capacity our clients want. Contact us today to see what options might be right for you.
 “Soaring Student Debt Prompts Calls For Relief,” Wall Street Journal, Sept. 13, 2016.
 “Writing Off Student Loans Is Only a Matter of Time,” Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2016.
 “Soaring Student Debt Prompts Calls For Relief,” Wall Street Journal, Sept. 13, 2016.