We’ve all seen them before: the too-good-to-be-true ads that pop up on a website, offering “one simple trick to lose belly fat fast” or a “sure-fire way to get out of debt quickly.” While most people are quick to dismiss these ads for what they are — a scam — it can be much more difficult for someone struggling with that particular issue to simply ignore these pop-ups.
Such is the case for student loan borrowers. With many college graduates overwhelmed with massive student loan debt and often failing to make high monthly payments, individuals with student loans may be uniquely vulnerable to these types of ads. According to a recent report, these scam tactics are worse than ever before — with individuals who click finding their computers infected by a virus.
According to computer security firm Symantec, spam campaigns that offer student loan repayment options have been delivering vicious malware to the computers of those unlucky enough to click. These viruses can inject code into the user’s computer and download files remotely — enabling cyber criminals to launch attacks, steal data and more.
As an estimated 42 million college graduates owe a staggering 1.3 trillion dollars in student loans, this market has the potential to be very lucrative for cyber thieves. By offering student loan forgiveness through emails, pop ups and other forms of ads, the criminals can take advantage of a significant vulnerability — the high number of Americans burdened with excessive student loan debt. When a user clicks on the ad or tries to respond to the email offer, the virus is delivered — and the problems begin.
These scams take many different forms, but usually include an offer to reduce, consolidate or forgive student loan debt. The offers will almost always be too good to be true — telling a person that they qualify for forgiveness of their entire student loan or that they can reduce their payment to just a few dollars a month. Other emails may ask for money for services that are available for free on a lender’s website or through the government or your alma mater.
These scams all have one thing in common: when a user clicks, a virus called Ascesso is downloaded to their computer. As soon as it is installed, whoever sent the virus can use their system to wreak all manner of havoc, from launching attacks on other computers to downloading more malware to stealing data or information and even engaging in click fraud activities.
So how can savvy student loan borrowers protect themselves against this cyber threat? The first step is to be careful where you click. Never open a link or attachment from an unknown source, and do not reply to emails from an unknown sender. You can often click on the header of the email to reveal the source email address; it will usually show you that the sender is not legitimate.
The second step is to carefully consider whether an offer could possibly be legitimate. A general rule is that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. There is no loan forgiveness program in the world that would erase your student loan debt with just a few clicks — and even the most generous repayment programs would not reduce your monthly payments to zero. While the impulse to click is understandable, a few moments of careful consideration will likely reveal that these offers are nothing more than scams.
Third, if you have a question about your student loans, go directly to the source. Your student loan servicer — whether it is the federal government or a private company — is not going to be sending you unsolicited emails with special “act now” offers. They will not be paying for pop-up ads on websites. There are no secret methods for getting rid of your student loan debt quickly.
This information is publicly available on your loan servicer’s website or from the Department of Education. You can visit their site or call them yourself to find out if you qualify for any repayment plans or forgiveness programs. And it should also be noted that the only loans that qualify for forgiveness programs are federal loans — and they never ask for fees or send out emails from random addresses telling you to click now. Reputable financial news and advice sites may also have guidance on these programs. Mint and other sites have information on how you can consolidate your loans or get into an income-based repayment plan.
Fourth, if the temptation to click is just too high, consider purchasing and installing a program to protect your computer from these viruses. Even if you never click on these ads or emails, the price of the program is often worth it for the peace of mind that your data and identity are shielded from an attack.
Author: Jeff Gitlen
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