One point six trillion dollars: That’s how much federal student loan debt Americans have racked up.

When President Biden announced plans to provide debt relief for up to 43 million people not only did it catch the attention of borrowers, it caught the ears of scam artists.

“As soon as the announcement went out, within hours, we were getting reports that were out from our customers saying that they were getting solicited with student loan type scam,” said Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist with Aura, a cybersecurity company that helps folks stay safe online.

One thing he said scam artists are already doing is telling people they can help them jump to the front of the line.

“You don’t want to be the person waiting at the end because it may take you years to get your check,” Ramzan said. “And all of a sudden they scare people into thinking that there’s a sense of urgency.”

Ramzan said no one can get you in early. Besides, we are still weeks away from even knowing the details of how the programs will work.

“And it’s in that moment of chaos and confusion that scammers thrive because they thrive on that misinformation, they thrive on that ability when people are confused,” he explained.

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Sometimes, the scammers are snagging money; they will demand up-front fees for guaranteed access — and that is illegal. But often, they are snagging identities. Ramzan warns once you share any personal information — including your federal student aid ID, you cannot pull it back.

“I’m never getting that back when it’s out there,” Ramzan said. “It can be used five, 10, 15 years from now in a way that’s quite daunting to think about.”

Ramzan said scammers might know or take lucky guesses that you have a federal student loan. If you get a call, text, email, or even a direct message on social media out of the blue from a company you’ve never heard of — it’s likely a bad guy.

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The Department of Education is not going to call or text to sign you up for student debt relief. And make sure you’re not applying for help on a fake government website.

“Don’t take instructions from anybody other than an official government website and follow that path,” he said. “And if you do that, you’ll avoid many of these scammers.”

Details on whether you are eligible for federal student loan forgiveness can be found on the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website.

In many cases, borrowers will automatically qualify if the Department of Education has their income information. Otherwise, an application process is expected to go live in the next several weeks.

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