Email Scams: Don’t Get Duped

Update for February 2013:

You may have received an email from the Direct Loan Servicing Center about your loan being transferred to Sallie Mae. Don’t worry – this email is legit. (assuming the sender’s domain is correct – see screenshot below)

My own student loan was transferred at the beginning of this month (Feb. 2013), and I received the email. I called the Department of Education personally to verify that the email came from them, and they affirmed it.

For reference, here is a screenshot of the email I received:

Loan Transfer
If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave a comment on this post and I’ll get back to you.

—————–

Original Aug. 2011 article:

Correction: If you viewed this post in the past, you probably saw that I had posted a specific email that I previously believed to be a scam. The email referred to a change in the way that the government is handling Direct Loan processing. It turns out the email was indeed not a scam, though it was a very poor and sloppily executed message that looked a lot like one.

Just for clarification, the federal government will indeed be changing the borrower website to myedaccount.com. You can view the official announcement for the change here.

Message to the Direct Loans office: You suck at notifications. Get better at it. Here are just a couple reasons why your email was absolutely terrible:

  • MyEdAccount.com doesn’t even have a “coming soon” message on it or anything. If you’re going to tell people about it, you better damn well have some sort of message up until the site launches. Any 12-year old kid playing with HTML would know that.
  • Send the email from the domain people are familiar with. Sending the email from the new domain (which, again, we can’t even visit) REEKS of scam. How are you this stupid?

Thanks to some of the commenters down below for pointing this out to me. If you’ve gotten this email, I’ll repeat that it is legit. It just sucks.

Update 10/18: Looks like I’m not the only one who’s pissed. Check out this article at The Consumerist (and the comments) as well as the reactions going around Twitter to see just how epic the Dept. of Education’s failure with this transition is.

Update 10/26: I’m still following this situation, so if you’d like to stay updated, you can follow me on Twitter and I’ll keep you informed.


Alright, back to the article. Here are some ways you can spot and avoid email scams:

Pay Attention to the Sender

Make sure to always look at who sent you an email. Scammers are getting more and more sneaky every day, and more often than not, the emails they send will look legit. However, they’re going to have a pretty hard time sending you an email from the actual domain name they’re trying to trick you with.

If you get an email about direct loans, make sure it’s from dl.ed.gov. If it’s about PayPal, make sure the email’s from paypal.com. Always take a good look at the email address; there are several things scammers do to make the URL look legit:

  • Some URL’s look very similar to the legit one. For example, you could see paypall.com – this is a common misspelling, and you probably wouldn’t catch it with a casual glance. People who use common misspellings are called typo squatters,  and people fall victim to them all the time. Don’t be one of them.
  • Scammers will sometimes create subdomains with the names of real websites. For example, you might see something like paypal.herpderp.com – a subdomain can be named anything the scammer wants it to be. Once again – if you just give the URL a quick once-over, you may see “paypal” and skip over the rest. Be careful.

Be Wary of Links in Emails

Just as you need to be careful to check the domain of the sender’s email, be very careful to check links in the body of the email. In particular, be wary of shortened links – you know, stuff from bit.ly, tinyurl.com, and other sites. If you find a shortened link in an email and you’re just too curious to let it go straight to the trash bin, use Where Does This Link Go to expand the link so you can see the actual URL. You may want to bookmark it for quick reference.

Scumbag Steve

Maintain a Healthy Pessimist’s Attitude

You’re not going to get free money from Nigeria, you can’t become a mystery shopper overnight and get free stuff from all your favorite stores, and you can’t make $8,000 a month filling out surveys online. Maintain a skeptical attitude when looking at your email – if something seems to good to be true, then that something was created by someone who wouldn’t think twice about dumping you on the side of the road and selling your dog for crack money.

Check out these resources for more info:

Have you ever been duped? Share your tips in the comments and help put scammers where they belong – still in their mom’s basement.

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Facebook

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44 Comments:
  1. Sheesh. I JUST received an email about my student loan that made me highly suspicious, several months after you first posted about this. (So thanks for letting me know it is in fact legit!) The FSA logo at the top looks out of proportion, it was sent from the directloanservicingcenter.org domain which is still empty, and it tells me to log in to myedaccount.com, whereas previously it had always been a .gov site. So I went directly to what I knew to be the real Direct Loans website at http://www.direct.ed.gov/ and clicked on Direct Loan Servicing…and found myself looking at this mess: https://www.dl.ed.gov/borrower/BorrowerWelcomePage.jsp (broken image, html tag showing at the bottom) before being redirected to myedaccount.com. This does not tend to reassure one that there’s nothing fishy going on!

    • Yeah, it’s been a pretty terrible transition. I feel really sorry for all the people who actually had to pay for their loans during that time…

  2. After reading some of the older comments made by other people I wanted to make another comment and go to bat for Mr. Frank.

    First, I personally didn’t see the email when it was sent out. I tend to “cherry pick” my personal email account and sometimes important emails slip by me.

    Even if I did see the email back on Sept. 7th when I received it, I probably wouldn’t have remembered it more than 3 months later when receiving an automated phone call that looked and sounded like a scam itself.

    Second, the email did seem scammy to me for all the reasons pointed out already.

    Third, did I mention the automated phone calls that are now going out? Even if one saw the email 3 months prior they still wouldn’t be able to know what is going on without researching it online or something.

    Has anyone else got one of these phone calls and then had to research it online to find this web site to figure out what is going on?

    • Thanks for the support, TC. I can’t say that I’ve received any automated phone calls so far, but I do know that the Direct Loans office has handled this whole transition very poorly. If a private business were to transition this way, they would be out of business by now.

  3. OMFG! Looks like automated phone calls are also being made that are incredibly unprofessional, concerning and “scammy” sounding.

    I just got a phone call from “UNKNOWN” so of course I didn’t answer it.

    Then, the voice mail left doesn’t identify who is calling, informs me that my bank account will be billed automatically the first business day after my bill is due (doesn’t say for what), and that if I have questions call the 800 number or goto a .COM address that I couldn’t make out.

    Fortunately when I googled the phone number I found this site that actually explains what’s going on (thank you) as well as some other results in google that could very well be ACTUAL scams created in the wake of the DOE’s carelessness.

    Thanks for giving me a place to vent as well as to let others know that automated phone calls are being made from caller “unknown”

  4. This whole thing was a giant cluster %@$#. I hope somebody lost their job over this

    • It’s true – this was a really bad migration. Pretty much everything went wrong. You know you did a bad job when the first result in Google for your new site is a blog post saying how bad it is…

      Judging from the dwindling traffic to this post, however, I think they’re starting to get the issues sorted out. I really hope nobody got screwed with their interest payments over this :(

  5. I’m being affected by this piece of crap myedaccount.com and its not fair. They are already making a profit off my hardwork at school while illegally collecting income tax from me, now they won’t even give me credit for payments made.

    They should be making it easier for us, not harder. Great article.

  6. I’m seeing a notification on their site about high traffic, which may be overloading their servers. I’d suggest giving them a call to see what you can do about the payment. Here’s their number: 1-800-848-0979

  7. I’m seeing a notification on their site about high traffic, which may be overloading their servers. I’d suggest giving them a call to see what you can do about the payment. Here’s their number: 1-800-848-0979

  8. It says they are doing maintenance… yet my payment was due on the 11th, and it’s been broken all week. ARgh.

  9. I can’t seem to access it still. I go to the website and myaccount then it says it will be available 8am on the 11th. It is the 12th………

  10. I came here because I got re-directed to myedaccount.com from dlservicer.ed.gov after it wouldn’t resolve without the “www” in front.

    I think your suspicion of the new domain, like mine, is completely justified and if you hadn’t blogged about it I’d still be looking around for verification that this wasn’t a phishing site.

    Nice work. You performed a public service and the dept. of ed rightly deserves the criticism for their sloppy execution of this domain name change.

  11. They said the webpage myedaccount.com would be working as of 10/11/11. It’s still not working. I tried to register and it gets so far in the process and says “unexpected error.” Then I tried to call the service numbers. Both of them went straight to a “Your call cannot be completed at this time,” message. What is going on???

  12. <—>

    Now do another google search for myedaccount.com. See your article in the results? Ahead of important information from the dl.ed.gov. In this case, you are not helping. Congratulations, you can’t smell your own stank.

    http://www.dl.ed.gov/ go there now… similar message.

    The new website is still dead. But come Monday it should be alive. They are going to ask you to establish a new user profile. But the new site will not require a PIN. That was the most secure part about the old site. Seems like a mistake to remove security checks like the hard to get PIN.

    BTW since you are being difficult and simply not responsible, I suggest you adopt a nom de plume. I happen to know and admire a real journalist named Thomas Frank; http://www.tcfrank.com/

    I don’t really want anyone to mix you two up now…

    One more thing, don’t drown-out the word ‘geek’ either. It use to mean something prestigious and I would not, at this juncture, assign this word to you.

    Mediocre Riddence TF

  13. @Thomas Frank I had zero confusion as to who or what @BethRingsmuthStolpman was addressing. Sorry about my wording there, I ran the two ideas together in grammatical error. I think we were both puzzled by your alarm bell.

    I do like the ‘atm bum’ scenario you came up with. That would have been a good start for the original article. Just say that you think something fishy is going on to caution people. Explain that you are going to simply call them to verify the authenticity of the email. Very easy to do. Update your article, after due diligence. I did research before even considering posting a comment. I traced the email, the domain, and the history of the company who serviced my loan. Cross-referenced Google searches of http://www.dl.ed.gov/ and then verified multiple documents making a similar announcement; including a letter sent to financial aide officers.

    Your failure to contact them and then proceed to write the article as though you uncovered a scam was uncool. You were mixing scam tips with a maybe, probably, could be a scam but I haven’t checked yet….yada yada… Own up to it — you both fouled the air.

    If you thought it was a scam or potential crime why did you not report it? Don’t you think dl.ed.gov should know someone is posing as an official site?

    You were complaining that the myedaccount.com was blank. But you were also concerned that they were harvesting SS#s? Wouldn’t they have a fake login for that?

    Did you even do a Google search for the new (scam) domain? Like I have said all along, it all checked out.

    I tried to explain this on my first post. I also read this document back then: http://bit.ly/qaIw6j

    Which even addresses your case:

    ” As always, borrowers may contact the Direct Loan Servicing Center (ACS) to ask questions and/or validate the legitimacy of the communication.”

    < --->

  14. @booleantwist Beth’s comment was directed at the article, not my response to you. This should be evident by the fact that her comment is not a reply, and thus not indented or referencing a username.

    Anyway, I get the feeling that maybe I haven’t made the implications of changing the website for loan information clear. I’ll put it simply: to view your loan information on the Direct Loans website, you must enter you social security number. Therefore, if the website changes, you can logically conclude that you will be entering your social security number at a new website. Still following me?Alright, so here’s the red flag that should be very evident: the email was sent FROM THIS NEW DOMAIN. This is the equivalent of a bum on the street walking up to you with a card reader and telling you he’s a mobile ATM for your bank. How are you supposed to know he’s telling the truth? You can’t, and so you’re going to tell him to get lost. This is the same situation. The communication didn’t come from the domain everyone is familiar with, so it isn’t trustworthy.

  15. @Thomas Frank The point of their email was to inform you of a pending Domain Name Change or Branding Change if you prefer.

    The red flags you cited did not qualify as such. You got nervous because they wrote a poor communication. It just seems wise to ask questions, don’t accuse and assume malicious intent and then publish in article form as though it were fact.

    So you know how to put a domain name into the browser, nothing happened, and they did not meet your expectations. I know who holds my loan, I know it is not the govt, and I know how to check if the new domain is owned by the same company. I was not worried, but I totally understand why others would be uncomfortable. They goofed. You goofed. You just distract and make noise about it.

    I appreciate your efforts to write and share informative articles to help students. But you will fail publicly sometimes and doing so honestly, with grace would behoove you.

    My best guess is that a low-skilled person wrote the announcement, or did not consider the audience carefully, and as an organization — did not feel compelled to do so. They are not ‘swooning’ you. They already have your records and your business. You did not choose them, and you likely cannot transfer away from them very easily.

    Your first reply to me was so bizarre, I quote: “In fact, this is almost too unbelievable to be true…” that @Beth had to be a bit rude and just say, “You are wrong.”

    I suggest you see a specialist / analyst, because you are hinting at delusion. This is not magical, it is logical.

  16. @booleantwist regardless of whatever level of technology expertise I may have, the email had red flags popping up everywhere. When students are used to dealing with a .gov website for their loans – which, at this point in their life, is the BIGGEST amount of money they’re dealing with – and then get an email from a .com website that doesn’t even exist yet, and is only referenced in the middle of a long PDF buried in the existing website, they’re probably not going to think it’s legit. I’ll stand by my previous statement – whoever was in charge of creating this email screwed up.

  17. @booleantwist regardless of whatever level of technology expertise I may have, the email had red flags popping up anywhere. When students are used to dealing with a .gov website for their loans – which, at this point in their life, is the BIGGEST amount of money they’re dealing with – and then get an email from a .com website that doesn’t even exist yet, and is only referenced in the middle of a long PDF buried in the existing website, they’re probably not going to think it’s legit. I’ll stand by my previous statement – whoever was in charge of creating this email screwed up.

  18. Thanks for updating the article.

    I was a bit surprised that you did a lot of ‘finger pointing’, but did not excuse yourself as well. My point was that you did not investigate before you yelled scam. It was just an email after all. Getting all loud and excited about it does not help. It creates confusion, when your readers are probably looking for helpful tips and clarity.

    Again, it is important for people to remember that private companies service the loans, not the government. These companies do need to be evaluated and critiqued, but it is better to do so in a constructive manner.

    I appreciate that you decided to include ‘avoiding scams’ tips in your blog, but It is quite obvious to me that you don’t have expertise in technology matters. Citations always help too.

  19. Thanks for update the article.

    I was a bit surprised that you did a lot of ‘finger pointing’, but did not excuse yourself as well. My point was that you did not investigate before you yelled scam. It was just an email after all.

    Getting all loud and excited about it does not help.

    Again, it is important for people to remember that private companies service the loans, not the government. They do need to be evaluated and critiqued, but it is better to do so in a constructive manner.

    I appreciate that you decided to include ‘avoiding scams’ tips in your blog, but It is quite obvious to me that you don’t have expertise in technology matters. Citations always help too.

  20. Thanks to everyone that pointed this out to me. I’ve looked into it and determined that you’re all correct; this is just a terrible, sloppy implementation. The article has been changed now.

  21. You are wrong. This information is also on the http://www.dl.ed.gov site when I log in. The announcement looks lame, but it’s for real. You’ll want to update this page with a correction once everything switches over to http://www.myedaccount.com in early Oct. 2011.

    I don’t know why you think this is a scam when the e-mail that you received doesn’t say anything fishy at all–it just notifies you that you’ll be redirected, doesn’t ask you for any information, and actually tells you that more information is available when you login to your current account at http://www.dl.ed.gov Also, I’d like to point out that not all federal student loans are serviced by a .gov site–mine were all over the place before consolidating, one was at myfedloan.org and one at mygreatlakes.com — so you should probably check your facts before putting out an alert like this that could scare people.

  22. @booleantwist What you’re saying actually seems to be true… Well, in this case, somebody in the government ROYALLY screwed up this notification process and made it look a lot like a scam.

    1. They emailed everyone from a domain that you can’t even go to, much less find in a Google search – and they did so while referring to VERY personal information.

    2. All the links – even the ones labeled http://www.dl.ed.gov – linked to some long string that looked like an affiliate link or something. I wish I still had my copy of the email so I could post it here – I replaced all the links in the posted copy above with links to a picture.

    In fact, this is almost too unbelievable to be true. To be honest I’d be less surprised to find out that a hacker planted those documents than to find that the email was legit. I’m going to contact the Direct Loan people soon and figure this out; if I get actual confirmation from them that this is legit, I’ll fix the post. I’ll also tell them they need to fire whatever clown was tasked with sending out this email.

  23. I disagree. What evidence do you have? Did you examine and trace info from the email headers? Did you call or email the company before posting your article?

    My copy of the email is…

    From: “Direct Loan Servicing Center”

    Which is owned by:

    Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS)

    “As the nation’s only loan servicer chosen by the U.S. Department of Education to service the Federal Direct Student Loan Program, ACS’s Direct Loan Division provides student loan services to support the distinct requirements of this program.”

    Also, a quick Google search shows a similar announcement within PDF files hosted on dl.ed.gov.

    I agree the domain name is confusing, but don’t confuse who is servicing your loans. I don’t particularly care for the arrangement that the government has made.

    Sources:

    Loan servicers

    http://www.finaid.org/loans/servicers.phtml

    (from a June 10, 2011 document)

    https://schools.dl.ed.gov/schools/pdf/News_trans_new_system.pdf

  24. With all the media that is going on with the email scams why are there still so many that people are receiving? I have scams almost everyday now. I get lots saying that I have won the lottery in the UK and some as far away as Africa. How can someone do this and get away with it? I am tired of getting scams and what can be done to stop the scams? Don’t these people have anything else to do? They need to get a life

  25. Although your tips are quite relevant, you really should edit this post asap! This particular email is not a scam according to the Dept. of Ed’s own news page (as linked by freetouse). Unfortunately, your blog is now one of the top hits on google when users search for information on this change and they may be confused.

    The more important question is why the DOE is poor at communication. They are shutting down a website that’s used by millions of student loan holders in just 3 weeks and the only notice on the site is buried deep within a PDF. And as you have already pointed out, they are moving from a ed.gov address to a .com.

  26. Scumbag nigerian prince: Offers you inheritance of 1,000,000 dollars… actually just empties your bank account.

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