NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Keeping track of Web-based firms that operate in specific verticals can be daunting. Vendors selling services in the higher ed? Way hard. Identifying scammers? Even harder.
This week, Rohit Chopra, student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) went to the source with letters sent to Google, Yahoo and Bing, warning that search engines built and maintained by these companies may be used by scammers who are selling fraudulent products to people with student loans.
The CFPB's letter was not available, but a message from CFPB spokesperson Moira Vahey noted that fee-charging con artists were working the search space. "The CFPB has seen an increase in the number of companies and websites requiring large upfront fees to help borrowers enroll in a plan that can be done for free [from the Federal government], Vahey said. “While we have warned consumers about these scams, we are concerned that unscrupulous companies may be using aggressive advertising through search products to lure distressed borrowers.”
The CFPB’s analysis of Google Trends data finds that struggling borrowers are searching for help using keywords such as “student loan default,” “student loan forgiveness,” and “Obama student loan relief.”
”This bears a close resemblance to the (mortgage) foreclosure crisis, where borrowers were given conflicting information about their options and found scammers who made false promises on loan modifications in exchange for upfront fees," the CFPB said. In 2011, through its cooperation with the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Google helped prevent mortgage scammers from preying on broke homeowners.