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With many people overwhelmed by student loans, companies that promise to help get loans discharged or forgiven are popping up everywhere. Unfortunately, these companies are almost always a scam. They are touting themselves as a company that only want to help overwhelmed students when they’re actually in it for the profits. They’re charging a lot of money for services that are provided by the Department of Education for free, and the companies are giving students the wrong information.

There are a few ways to avoid scams, and it helps to be aware of the tactics used by these companies.

Federal or Nationwide in the Name

When these private companies have the word federal, nationwide, national or other official-sounding words in their name, it can be confusing for consumers. Most of the time, these companies want consumers to believe they are legitimate, and they’ll use official-sounding words, so students will believe they’re affiliated with the government or the Department of Education.

There have been many companies sued for misleading consumers with the illusion that they are affiliated with the government in an official capacity. It’s important that you don’t give your borrower number or social security number to any company aside from the Department of Education itself. You can usually tell that it’s a real government website when you have the .gov at the end of the address.

Makes Promises

These companies will promise to lower monthly payments or get the entire amount of the loan forgiven. In fact, the company isn’t getting the loan forgiven, they’re consolidating the loan and providing a service for a fee that you can get for free by the government.

When companies promise to relieve the loan, they’re actually basing it on research they’ve done into your circumstances. If you’re qualified, the government can forgive your loan, but the company is only checking to see if you qualify by checking with the government. You’re paying for a service that you could obtain for free on your own.

Advertised on Social Media

A company that is trying to make a profit will advertise on the top of the search engines with paid advertisements. They’ll pay for Facebook ads to get desperate people to contact them. They’re providing services for people that would otherwise receive them free from the government itself. When they’re for-profit companies, they rely on making a profit from unsuspecting victims.

These shady companies advertise on the radio too. When you’re trying to consolidate your loans with a reputable company affiliated with the DOE, you won’t find that company advertising on the radio or social media. Head directly to the government loan websites to find the program that will help you.

It Costs for Help

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The government will not charge you for consolidating your loan or helping you through the loan process. Many people don’t realize that they don’t have to pay anything for the government to help. When there’s an upfront fee for help through a company, it’s one of the biggest red flags that you’re dealing with a scam.

As soon as the company you’re talking to says there’ll be a fee to help, you’ll know that you’re in contact with a disreputable company that is looking to make a profit.

Stay away from companies that require up-front fees, make huge promises about getting you out of debt immediately or have official-sounding names but don’t have a .gov website address. You are entitled to free help from the government and companies affiliated with the Department of Education. If you have doubts about the legitimacy of the company, contact the DOE to find reputable companies.