email phishing

Don’t Take the Bait: Phishing Scams on College Campuses

New phishing scams are targeting colleges and students nationwide.  Reports from Amherst College, Louisiana State University, Dartmouth, and more say students have reported multiple types of online phishing schemes in recent weeks.

Phishing scams are usually performed online, through email.  One scam features emails that contain fake job opportunities and request student’s personal information.  The Department of Homeland Security reports that scammers use email pretending to be interested in hiring a person. The email then asks for critical information, such as one’s address or social security number.  Once the information is obtained, scammers are able to access bank accounts and personal information.

Several thousand students at Dartmouth received emails that appeared to come from President Phil Hanlon.  In reality, the messages were linked to malware designed to steal information.  At LSU, IT Services Communications Officer Sheri Thompson said spam bots were impersonating the university’s help desk.  She said, “Be skeptical, be skeptical about any links that you get, any request for information that you get. Even if it says it’s coming from an LSU person, be skeptical.”  Wellesley college recently alerted students of fake versions of its student login page.  The school’s IT department said, “This scam copied our login page, even using our Wellesley College Images! What set the scam website apart was that it was not located at Wellesley.edu and wasn’t a secure website.”

University Employees have also been targeted through scams. Institutions across the country are experiencing a phishing fraud with an email that indicates a change in their employee’s human resource status.  The email then directs the employee to a fake login page.  If employees provide login information, their login can be stolen and paychecks can be rerouted to the scammers.

As attackers continue to impersonate emails and web portals, it is important that faculty and students take extra precautions to protect themselves.  The Research and Education Networking Information Sharing and Analysis Center (REN-ISAC) warns that these attacks are particularly prevalent during both calendar and fiscal end of year financial wrap ups.  Users should be cautious when accessing email and never send account information to others.  In addition, students receiving unsolicited emails should remain skeptical, and be alert to poor spelling and demands for a rapid response.  To report phishing emails, forward them to spam@uce.gov – and to the organization, company, or college impersonated in the email.

Graduation mortar board cap on one hundred dollar bills concept for the cost of a college and university education

Student Loan Defaults Grow in 2016

New data released by the U.S. Department of Education indicates that millions of Americans are currently defaulting on Federal Direct Loans.  These loans are serviced through companies, hired by the federal government, to help students in debt.  In 2016 alone, 1 million Federal Direct Loan borrowers defaulted.  The end of 2016 resulted in 4.2 million total Federal Direct Loan borrowers defaulting.  The number is up from 3.6 million in 2015.

Rohit Chopra, Senior Fellow at the Consumer Federation of America is quoted as saying, “3,000 preventable student loan defaults each day in America is 3,000 too many.”  He went on to say, “Our broken system works well for the student loan industry, but is failing borrowers, taxpayers, and our economy.”

According to the Consumer Federation of America, the data validates recent claims made by federal regulators that service providers are putting borrowers at higher risk by purposely failing to help them find the best repayment plans for their needs.

Four major servicers are contracted by the US Department of Education to collect payments on loans.  The report notes that Navient, formerly Sallie Mae, has the lowest percentage of loans being paid using the PAYE and REPAYE plans, which are designed to help struggling borrowers.  Navient was sued in January by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for making it more difficult for borrowers to repay loans.  Navient has disputed all charges, and The Department of Education has declined to comment.

As the cost of student’s tuition has risen, so has student debt.  In 2013, the average student borrower owed $26,300.  Since then, the average owed per borrower has jumped 17%, to $30,650.  One positive is that less people are defaulting for the first time.  However, the number of individuals defaulting for the second or third time is up.

Many are wondering why such a rise in defaults given the strengthening labor market, lower unemployment, and higher wages.  Research shows that many borrowers in default never graduated and haven’t found consistent work.  One reason for the rise in the overall balance owed may be that more graduate students are borrowing.  The typical graduate school loan is much higher than undergrad.

The Obama administration tried to reduce debt defaults by highlighting plans that set borrowers’ monthly payments as a share of their incomes, and then ultimately forgive part of their balances.  Enrollment in the plan has grown steadily in the past few years.  President Trump proposed to offer a similar version of income driven repayment plans during his campaign.  So far, the administration has yet to announce details of such a plan.