Wednesday, March 23, 2011

bitter lemons

like many people, perhaps even most people, when i went to university, i took out student loans in order to pay for my studies. eventually, the day came when i stopped gathering degrees (that took awhile) and the student loans, sadly, entered the repayment phase. by that time, i lived in another country.  and it took a good eight months to consolidate the various loans from the various universities i had attended and to convince the good student loan administrators that not only were other countries but yes, sometimes people, even american people, will choose to live in them. and in those said countries, it might be much more efficient to do a regular bank transfer, as opposed to writing a check (which was a very archaic and unused system in a good portion of the world, even already in the mid-noughties).

the whole way along, i had dutifully kept all of the various interested parties informed of my address and contact details. and i had all of the paperwork on all of the loans with me, so i am absolutely certain that, after a stack of letters half a foot high, they were all eventually consolidated into one monthly payment which i continue to dutifully make to this day (it's set up with my bank to transfer automatically), a good five years on. but, as i said, it took awhile to convince these amero-centric folks that i lived abroad and that i needed an account to which to transfer the payments.

during the time that took, some (but strangely not all) of the loans entered default and must have ended up on a list of defaulted student loans. however, those loans are all part of the consolidated package i succeeded, in the end, in arranging and they are no longer defaulted.

then, 2009 comes and the crisis takes hold in earnest.  and suddenly, my parents begin to receive letters addressed to me (tho' never with my correct name) and plaguing phone calls, asking for me. leaving cryptic messages about student loans, but never going so far as to state any amounts or even lenders on said loans, nor what universities they were from. the letters are quite clever - they look very official and while they don't actually claim to be sallie mae, the official federal student loan consolidation folks, they imply that they are working on sallie mae's behalf.  which i know that they are not, because i can see my own records and check on my loan repayment status via the real sallie mae.

so it seems that there are lot of unscrupulous companies out there, who somehow got their hands on some very old information - both address/phone-wise and default-status-wise and they are actually trying to scare my aging parents into, i can only guess, giving them money! all of these companies - which have different names and which have their supposed vice presidents call and talk to my mom, seem to be based in wilmington, delaware. leaving me to think that must be the place that's sucking all of the happiness out of the universe (and here i thought it was the thai airlines lounge in the airport in manila).

what kind of desperate scam artists would do that? prey on someone's elderly parents - trying to scare them - with veiled threats of how much trouble their daughter is in.  even the letters are extremely vague - referencing "your loans" and although they have arbitrary amounts listed as well, absolutely none of the loan numbers or amounts match any of my records. plus, there's the fact that all of my student loans are consolidated and in repayment.

i can only guess that i'm not the only person out there who this is happening to, and i can only hope that other people's parents are as resistent to the threats as mine have been. i guess it's an indicator of how desperate times are that unscrupulous people resort to such tactics. and sadly, i fear it also means that they work, because the letters and phone calls continue to come, badgering my parents. simply because way back when i took out student loans, my permanent address was at their home. and as soon as one of them is told they are on a do not call list, the company name changes to a new P.O. box in wilmington, delaware and the calls resume.

and it seems that the only thing i can do about it is apologize to my parents that they have to endure it and assure them that all of my loans are, in fact, consolidated and being repaid.  i don't know what else can be done...there are a lot of websites out there, with similar complaints - i even read of a canadian woman who had never had a student loan in the US in her life being badgered by these companies. but anyway, i thought i'd write about it here, because bringing the issue into the open can maybe help a little bit.


poet said...

That is really outrageous. Who in the world... ! And yes, the banking system in the US is set up to really make international transactions difficult, isn't it?

Pia K said...

1) bureaucracy is everywhere. hate it. ah, for common sense and a genuine interest in (creative) problem solving and the wolrd would be a better place. for all.

i hate the fact that i have to repay student loans for a degree i, at the moment have no use whatsoever of, and no real income. i'm so mad i'm fuming (which is kind of and always ongoiung thing with me. sadly) and i'm now even in court with their outrageous behaviour of sending me reminder fees for reminders fees on reminder fees for a debt already paid. yes that's exactly how stupid they are. idiots.

2) that is creepy! i'm guessing you've already reported the matter to the police? fraud squad or whatever it might be called. such matters are rarely a priority for swedish police, but at least there's a certain proof that you've reacted, that there's something fishy going on etc.

Anne said...

That's terrible! I don't know what the appropriate authority is for reporting such things, and I'm not even sure if there's anything to be done with these people. But it does seem like something ought to be done--as you said, the tactics must work at least some of the time.

More broadly, scams like this one, and those that take advantage of people's desperation in this economic climate, really make me revile a certain portion of the human race. I just cannot fathom trying to profit off of people's uncertainty, ignorance, fear, etc. through deliberate deception.

Jess said...

I am glad you wrote about it here.

Not even a month ago I received a voice mail that informed me I was being summoned to court, etc. for a defaulted credit card. Of course I panicked and called back - only to talk to a guy that insisted I was to give him an exact date I could pay back the outrageous amount. I was stressed beyond belief. I did have a credit card SEVEN years ago, none since, and it did go unpaid for a while but he was saying he could write off the $8000 if I payed $3000.

I never thought I would fall for the scare tactics, but it was exactly that - I was scared. I didn't have the money to be flying to Mississippi where he said I was being summoned for court, etc. I asked him to send me some paperwork and as someone lent me the money (all the while I felt like a scummy piece of lent for needing help and knowing how long it would take for me to repay them) I was filling out the FedEx label to mail the check in, when I looked again at the paperwork he sent me and realized that was totally something I could whip up on my own - not that official looking. I decided to google this "company" and nothing but complaints showed up saying they were a scam, they take old debt issues that are no longer legally to be collected upon and call to get payments - the loop hole was if a payment was made, it reopened your case and they could keep hounding you.

Thank goodness I did a minuscule amount of research. I am usually pretty good about that but I was just so shocked and terrified that it didn't occur to me right away to look them up. I called them back and (of course no one answered) left a message telling them what they were doing was illegal and I had talked to our lawyers at work and if they had any more correspondence with me they could talk to "my lawyer" instead. I haven't heard from them since.

It left me bewildered that I had almost given some sleazy people THOUSANDS of dollars for nothing and that there were people out there doing this for a living!!! Especially after making it clear to them I was in school and working and did not have that kind of money.

So that's my story with it. All the same characteristics of vagueness and some details right but not enough. In the end, things didn't add up.

Question everything and do your research!

Thanks again for spreading the word, I think this is a terrible thing people are doing.

julochka said...

wow, jess, what a story!!! thank you for sharing it here!! i KNEW there had to be others out there!! and it's good to learn a little bit more about how/where/why they're getting the lists.

celkalee said...

dear julochka, there are many victims of this and similar scams. I had a similar experience with a collection agency who claimed to be representing an ambulance company who transported my son after a serious car accident. His resultant head injury left him unable to remember if he had paid the bill or not. Multiple threatening phone calls and official looking letters resulted in the information I needed to address the problem. There was indeed an outstanding bill but one of the two collection agencies was a fraud. He used the service, he was cared for properly and the transfer company deserved to be paid. Just like you have worked for and earned your education, those people who provided that education deserve to be paid. You have fulfilled your obligation to do this. The unscrupulous people who have been bothering your parents need to be reported to the States Attorney General where they live. This office, in most states, has a unit that does nothing but investigate these issues. In my County, there is also a mechanism in place to report the offense to the local police who then forward the information to a fraud unit that works with the telephone company. I would never send payment as the result of a phone call. Demanding written explanations of the supposed "debt" will be needed if they wish to report the problem. I do hope that this can be reconciled. I know how stressful it can be, I battled for 2 years!

Kim: said...

There was a really interesting article in the NYer, I think in the last few months, about what a thriving business debt selling had become. Lenders of all stripes "sell" debt they don't think they'll be able to collect to smaller private fish down the line, and the more doubtful or uncollectable the debt comes, the farther it travels down the line until pretty soon some dude whose office is a P.O. Box and the cab of his truck is calling trying to collect in a debt that has been resolved or is otherwise unrecoverable.

It could be that, in the process of you consolidating, it was misreported as an uncollected debt that has passed down the chain for awhile. In any case, how totally gross and annoying! (Also, Delaware has the loosest and most favorable laws for corporations, particularly for creditors, so that's why so many set up shop there.)

Tell your parents to get a police whistle and blow it into the ear of the next "collector" who calls.

Loredana said...

Goodness I'm going through this very thing right now. I have this man that calls me at least 3x a day and finally I decided to pick up. He proceeds to tell me that if I get my loans down to a certain amount after 9 months they'd send my loan to other creditors and I wouldn't be in default any longer. Meanwhile this whole time I thought I had consolidated all my loans into one and each month they were taking money right out of my account.

Apparently there are people out there that grab hold of your information and or your credit is sold to these people. Sad, so very sad.

I've come to the conclusion that my loans won't be paid off not even after my own daughter who is now 9 months will have graduated college.

Dutchbaby said...

I am so sorry that you and your parents are being preyed upon by these scam artists. These desperate times are creating desperate actions.

I'm glad that your parents were able to talk to you about it and that you were able to set them straight. I hope the phone calls and harassment ends soon.

Sammi said...

Perhaps there is like a trading standards authority you can report these companies to?

Anonymous said...

Like Sammi I am certain there is an official agency you could report these scam artist to who are essentially stealing your identity in order to take funds that you do not owe on an account you no longer hold! Thanks for posting this, awareness is the 1st step in the battle. Perhaps it would be the IRS who would need to be notified!