(MoneyWatch) Fake accounts for student lending giant Sallie Mae are popping up all over Instagram in an attempt to steal student identities, according to Scambook, a website dedicated to detecting bogus sites and warning consumers about using them.
The fake Sallie sites have a timely and attractive pitch: Due to the government shutdown, indebted graduates can apply for a loan "forgiveness" program that would wipe away their debt.
However, students who attempt to be among the first 150,000 to take the bogus sites up on the offer are asked to provide private information, such as birth dates and Social Security Numbers, allowing the sites to steal their identities, according to Scambook.
The real Sallie Mae has no Instagram presence and has been posting repeated messages this week on its real Facebook account warning consumers that it is not on Instagram, and it does not ask for personal information via social media.
Anyone who bought into the fake site's claims and plugged in personal information should quickly put a fraud alert on their credit file by either calling the three major credit bureaus: Experian (888-397-3742); Equifax (800-525-6285) and/or TransUnion (800-680-7289) or by visiting their websites or annualcreditreport.com. The fraud alert will stop creditors from granting new credit on your file for 90 days.
Another option is for people to start monitoring their credit report at annualcreditreport.com. This site provides one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus each year. That gives you access to three reports each year (one from each bureau).
Normally, all three reports should contain much the same information, so those at high risk of fraud can put a reminder in their calendar to request a report every four months -- just make sure you also note which bureaus have already provided a report that year and make the next request from one that hasn't.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in legitimate debt forgiveness programs, you can find 60 of them here. None will ask for personal information via social media. Ever.