At least 800 Washington victims scammed out of $500K
SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced a lawsuit against a Florida-based company and its owners, accusing them of charging students illegal fees for debt adjustment services, including assistance with consolidating federal student loans. Borrowers can already consolidate their loans, and get other assistance, for free through the federal government.
Student Aid Center, Inc. and its owners, Ramiro Fernandez-Moris and Damien Alvarez, are accused of deceptively marketing their services, charging more than the legal maximum $25 in initial fees for debt adjustment, and taking illegal advance fees.
From 2013 to 2015, the company advertised debt relief services for student loans, including claims it could offer an “Obama Student Loan Forgiveness Program,” and suggesting the company was associated with the federal government.
At least 800 Washington consumers paid Student Aid Center a total of about $500,000 in fees for its “services.”
“In 2015, Washington students graduated with an average of nearly $25,000 in debt,” Ferguson said. “I will not tolerate the financial abuse of already overburdened Washington students.”
According to Ferguson’s lawsuit, although Student Aid Center claimed it was part of the student loan forgiveness or loan consolidation process, all it really did was enroll consumers into repayment plans offered at no cost by the U.S. Department of Education.
The lawsuit alleges violations of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, Debt Adjustors Act and Credit Services Organizations Act.
The attorney general is asking the court to find Student Aid Center’s contracts invalid, order the defendants to provide refunds, and order the defendants to end their deceptive advertising and illegal fees.
Ferguson has successfully sued or obtained consumer refunds from seven student debt adjustment firms in the past year, resulting in a total of $306,896 returned to students and $180,000 for costs, fees, monitoring and future Consumer Protection Act enforcement. Previous releases are available here and here.
The Attorney General’s Office investigated the case along with the offices of the attorneys general of Florida, Kentucky and the District of Columbia, as well as the Federal Trade Commission. Each of those agencies has also filed its own action against Student Aid Center and its two owners. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office had previously filed suit. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Feb. 8, 2016; its owners have not sought bankruptcy protection.
Assistant Attorneys General John Nelson and Benjamin Roesch are handling the case for Washington.
Apply for U.S. Department of Education federal repayment programs for free
For most federal borrowers, the process for consolidating loans and applying for income-driven repayment plans is fairly straightforward: The borrower fills out a two-page application, verifies his or her employment and income, and submits the package to the DOE.
This process is done through the DOE for free and typically takes four to six weeks. Learn more at Federal Student Aid's website. Income-driven repayment plans allow borrowers to pay a percentage of their discretionary income.
Free student loan debt assistance
Ferguson urges students with questions about consolidating federal student loans to contact the Department of Education’s Loan Consolidation Information Call Center at 1-800-557-7392 before applying for consolidation. The Department of Education also provides technical assistance as borrowers fill out the consolidation application online.
Ferguson also urges current and former students never to pay up front for help with student loan debt relief. For information on sources of assistance, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the National Consumer Law Center.
For problems with your federal student loan servicer or a debt collector contact the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Loan Ombudsman at 1-877-557-2575 or online, or file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Attorney General’s Office.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov