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Government Asks Search Engines To Crack Down On Student Debt Scams

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants search engines to quit publishing ads for potentially illegal schemes.

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Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo have been asked by a federal regulator to crack down on the rising number of scammers that target student loan debtors via search advertising.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today released letters encouraging major search engines to work with state governments to curb such scams, asking them to "ensure your search products are not being used by individuals and companies seeking to prey on the most vulnerable student loan borrowers."

Borrowers who are struggling to repay their student loans turn to search engines with simple phrases like "student loan relief" and "student debt forgiveness," the CFPB letter said. Advertising shown on the results pages often direct struggling borrowers to potentially illegal schemes.

A Google search Monday for "student loan forgiveness" yielded advertisements for websites that were charging more than $500 in upfront fees to file paperwork, that guaranteed callers loans would be forgiven, and one site that said it had "a direct connection to the Education Department."

The top results on major search engines — shown above links from the Education Department — often advertise sites that charge huge upfront fees to file paperwork, falsely imply a connection to the federal government, and make false promises about loan forgiveness. Most sites simply file a few pages of paperwork on behalf of borrowers to enroll them in income-based repayment plans, which do not involve any kind of loan forgiveness. That paperwork is simple, free and intended to be filled out by borrowers themselves.

"This bears a close resemblance to the foreclosure crisis," the CFPB letter said, when Google worked with the Inspector General's office to shut down mortgage scam websites that had advertised with the search engine.

Molly Hensley-Clancy is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. She covers the intersection of business and education.

Contact Molly Hensley-Clancy at molly.hensley-clancy@buzzfeed.com.

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