TAMPA, Florida — Stephanie Cusic went to school for medical billing and to become a dental assistant.
“I can't find work,” said Cusic who instead had to take a job as a waitress.
The 34-year-old racked up $23,000 in student loan debt while getting her degrees.
“It is not a good feeling to have that hanging over my head,” she said of the money she now owes.
A few months ago she was solicited by the “Obama Student Loan Relief Fund.”
“It sounds pretty official,” said Cusic of the website.
But after several weeks of going back and forth she discovered that while the company sounds legit, it had nothing to do with the U.S. Department of Education loan forgiveness program.
“I didn't do my homework first,” Cusic admits.
“It’s very easy to fall into it. Because you’re in distress. You’re looking for a solution,” says Dameion Lovett, associate director for financial aid at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
He’s been tracking companies like the one which Cusic says took advantage of her which make appealing promises to those in debt.
“We will help you lower your loan payments, you can refinance your loans and pay less per month, or you will have your loans forgiven,” said Lovett of the promises made to those in debt. In reality he says they’re not offering too much that is of benefit to the borrower.
In fact, Lovett says many of the same services are available free of charge from the federal government.
“Going to the websites that end in GOV. Any dot-gov website -- that’s going to be the legitimate websites that are from the Department of Education. And anything other than that, you should start to be wary of it.”
The company Cusic dealt with was Literacy Repair Services. Its website stated, for an affordable fee it is a document and preparation business. Cusic says she decided not to pay the $290 fee but when she notified the company by text, she says they responded with expletives then threatened to abuse her personal information.
“I am not surprised to hear something like that has happened."
Our partners at First Coast News who first reported on this story reached out to the company for comment but say they did not hear back.
Meanwhile, USF is warning its graduating seniors what to avoid.
“Some of them will actually base their fee on what percentage of debt you have. So if you have 30 or 40 thousand dollars in student loan debt they may charge you 1 or 2 percent of that amount. And just doing the math on it, that’s a lot of money.”
Cusic filed complaints with the Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau. The state of Florida has already shut down a similar company based right here in Tampa. But there’s a long list of remaining companies lining up to take your money.
“It’s just disheartening to see how much money is being made from people who are really hard working people that are working for every dime and its basically being taken,” said Lovett.