The average college graduate owes nearly $500 a month in student loan debt and will take over 20 years to pay it all back. If that debt comes with a job you enjoy and a great salary, then the debt can be manageable and well worth it. But when you’re paying to send someone else to school—or just handing that money to a fraudster—that kind of debt can be crippling.

Student loan identity theft is on the rise, but you can protect yourself from falling victim by understanding the risks and taking proactive steps to protect your identity.

What is Student Loan Identity Theft?

Student loan identity theft isn’t a simple case of stealing your information to a get a student loan (although, it can be). Scammers are finding new ways to commit fraud all the time, and our increasing student loan debt has given them plenty of new opportunities. Some of the most common ways scammers are targeting student loan borrowers include:

-Fraudulent Student Loan Offers

By establishing a fake website or reaching out over a phishing email or phone call, scammers try to trick college applicants into giving out personal information, such as their name, date of birth, and Social Security number, for what they think is a loan application. In reality, the scammer will use that information to take out loans of their own. IdentityProtector will notify you if we detect someone using your private information to apply for a loan.

-Fraudulent Debt Relief Scams

There has been a rash of new companies offering debt relief and/or debt consolidation for student loan borrowers. Rather than trying to obtain someone else’s personal information to commit identity fraud, these companies are charging large up-front fees or monthly service fees, without providing any real benefit to borrowers. Earlier this year, one of these companies was shut down by federal investigators after earning over $11 million in fees and charges for services they never delivered.

-Loan Settlement Scam

A growing number of law firms are now offering to help borrowers settle their student loans for less than they owe. Law firms that offer this service often require borrowers to pay the entire loan amount up front, to them. Then instead of making payments with this money, they let the borrower go into default, so they can prove the person can’t pay their bills. There’s no guarantee this will lead to a settlement, but it will definitely tank the borrower’s credit score, making it harder for them to get new credit, rent an apartment, or even get a better job.

Protect Yourself from Student Loan Fraud

Whether you’re applying for a new student loan or looking for ways to manage your loan payments, there are some things you should do to protect yourself from falling victim to a scam:

-Don’t work with unknown companies

Start your loan search by contacting your school’s financial aid office. They should be able to provide you with a list of reputable lenders or consolidation services that students have worked with in the past. You can also learn more about your financing options on the federal government’s informational website,

-Monitor your credit report

If someone steals your personal information, you may not know about it until they use to obtain a loan—or until you get the bill for that loan. By reviewing your credit report regularly, you will have a better chance of catching fraudulent activity before it becomes a problem. For even earlier notification, IdentityProtector monitors your credit file and alerts you to any changes.

-Never pay up front

No legitimate lender should require an up-front fee, whether you’re applying for a loan or consolidating your existing loans. If the company you’re dealing with asks for money up front, walk away.

-Don’t let someone else pay your loan for you

The only way to guarantee your payments are being made is to pay them yourself. If a debt relief company or law firm offers to make payments on your behalf, refuse. Tell them you will continue to make the payments, because it’s your credit rating on the line.

-For federal loans, use the federal government

If you’re trying to obtain, consolidate, or find a better repayment plan for your federal loans, start with Debt relief companies, regardless of what they promise, can’t negotiate to get you a better deal on your federal loans. In many cases, your payment schedules and amounts are also set by federal guidelines, so third-party companies can’t alter these. Fortunately, you can find plenty of options for consolidating your federal loans and managing your monthly payments on the government’s student loan website.

-Work directly with your lender

If you’re struggling to pay off your student loans, contact your loan provider directly and ask what other payment options they have available. Most student loan providers offer an income-based repayment plan, which will adjust based on your changing income. And if you’re going through a difficult time financially, you may be eligible to stop payments for a set period of time, without financial penalty.

Get protected

You can’t monitor everything alone. With the help of an identity protection service, such as IdentityProtector, you have the peace of mind of knowing someone else is watching your back. IdentityProtector notifies you when we detect someone using your personal information to obtain credit, including student loans. Use Promo Code FAMILYDISCOUNT20 at checkout for 20% off an entire year.