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Jill on Money: Be alert because scams are heating up this summer

While you might be kicking back to enjoy summer, scammers are not taking a break. The Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings about a series of scams, so before that vacation brain freeze sets in, be sure to take note of the following trends.

There has been a spike in reports of aggressive phone calls, emails, letters and/or texts offering education loan borrowers relief from their federal student loans or warning them that federal student loan programs would end soon.

The fraudsters promise debt forgiveness and lower payments and often demand upfront fees of thousands of dollars, which is illegal, for this so-called service.

Red flags to watch out for:

A requirement to pay upfront or monthly fees for help.

The promise of immediate and total loan forgiveness or cancellation.

A claim that the offer is limited and that you need to act "NOW!"

A request for Federal Student Aid Identification, or FSA ID, password.

A third-party authorization form or a power of attorney.

Communications with spelling and grammatical errors.

To ensure that any company is legit, borrowers should review the government's list of trusted companies that provide student loan services and private collection agencies.

If you think that you have been scammed, file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint and file a report of suspicious activity through the Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Feedback System and immediately change your FSA ID.

The FTC says that unscrupulous actors are promising to "fix" your credit report and boost your score, simply by sending them money. As with the student loan example, the fraudsters use various methods to aggressively solicit, but those who sign up don't see a significant change in their credit scores.

In a lawsuit against one of those companies, Grand Teton, the FTC said that consumers paid hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars in hefty (and illegal) upfront fees, for so-called credit repair services that yielded nothing.

The FTC warns that when it comes to repairing credit, "there's rarely an instant fix." To start the process, you should obtain and review a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. If you see errors, contact the credit bureau and the business that reported the information to correct the information.

The FTC notes: "You don't have to pay anyone to do this for you — you can dispute inaccurate items on your credit report yourself, for free. There's nothing a company could do for you that you couldn't do yourself."

If you need help, however, contact a legitimate credit counseling organization through the Department of Justice (justice.gov/ust/list-credit-counseling-agencies-approved-pursuant-11-usc-111). These counselors are likely to take a holistic approach to your financial life and will help you develop a plan.

The FTC's latest Data Spotlight focuses on a surge in reports (nearly 1.3 million since 2014) about impostors posing as officials from the Social Security Administration, the IRS, Medicare or other government agencies. These fraudsters often threaten consumers and demand payment, sometimes with a gift card or by wiring money. Alternatively, they try to wrangle critical personal information from you, saying that your account has been linked to "criminal activity."

To combat the barrage, the FTC advises consumers to:

  • Be suspicious of any call from a government agency asking for money or information.
  • Don't trust caller ID; it can be faked.
  • Never pay with a gift card or wire transfer.
  • Check with the real agency to find out if they're trying to reach you — and why.
  • Report government impostor scams to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint.

Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. She welcomes comments and questions at askjill@jillonmoney.com.

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