Relief for Student Loan Borrowers Victimized by “Relief” Companies Masquerading as Legitimate Help

69 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2021

See all articles by Creola Johnson

Creola Johnson

Ohio State University - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: June 28, 2021

Abstract

Masquerading as legitimate help are companies that target forty-four million borrowers
owing over $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. “Relief” companies purport to help borrowers
struggling to repay student loans but, in fact, inflict irreversible financial harm by charging
borrowers unlawful fees. Often pretending to be affiliated with the U.S. Department of
Education (Education Department), relief companies falsely claim they can enroll borrowers
into income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs. Exploiting twenty-first century
technologies, relief companies can now easily reach millions of borrowers by, for example,
making robocalls to cellphones, posting phony five-star reviews on social media, and requiring
borrowers to e-sign documents disclosing their financial information. One company alone
bilked student loan borrowers out of thirty-five million dollars in unlawful fees for bogus relief.

This Article addresses the federal response to widespread fraud by relief companies.
Borrowers can theoretically obtain free help from private companies called “loan servicers,”
which are authorized by the Education Department to assist borrowers with repayment
options. However, under new leadership since 2017, the Education Department has taken
steps to shield loan servicers from being held accountable for alleged unlawful servicing
practices. Similarly, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB) has implemented
several harmful changes, including closing the only federal office dedicated to assisting student
loan borrowers. In light of harmful actions taken by the CFPB and the Education
Department, this Article proposes that states establish ombudsmen to effectively advocate for
borrowers and eliminate their susceptibility to relief companies falsely promising to help. This
Article also proposes that Congress require the Education Department to implement existing
technology-based solutions to prevent relief companies from taking over borrowers’ online loan
accounts to conceal their fraudulent activities.

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Creola, Relief for Student Loan Borrowers Victimized by “Relief” Companies Masquerading as Legitimate Help (June 28, 2021). Ohio State Legal Studies Research Paper No. 633, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3875512 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3875512

Creola Johnson (Contact Author)

Ohio State University - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

Do you want regular updates from SSRN on Twitter?

Paper statistics

Downloads
23
Abstract Views
158
PlumX Metrics