Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced this week that his office has obtained a settlement that requires a California student-loan debt-relief company that illegally collected fees from customers and misrepresented its services to consumers to cease operating in Minnesota and provide full refunds to its Minnesota consumers.
Among other things, Student Education Center — a company based in Newport Beach, Calif. — falsely promised consumers student-loan forgiveness, when only the federal government can forgive federal student loans. It told consumers it would take over their student-loan payments, when all it did was enroll consumers in federal repayment programs that consumers can enroll themselves in for free, then pocketed both initial and monthly fees for doing so. It also collected its fees up front before performing the promised services, which is illegal under Minnesota law regulating debt settlement services. Additionally, Student Education Center was operating without registering as a debt-settlement service provider, as required by Minnesota law.
The settlement, filed in Ramsey County District Court, requires Student Education Center to immediately pay the State $122,019.18 — the full amount it has collected but not otherwise refunded its Minnesota customers — which the Attorney General’s Office will use to provide full restitution to consumers. The settlement also requires Student Education Center to cease operating in Minnesota unless and until it registers as a debt-settlement service provider. Ellison’s Office alleges in the settlement that Student Education Center violated Minnesota’s Debt Services Settlement Act, Prevention of Consumer Fraud Act, and Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
“Minnesotans take out student loans in good faith so they can get educations that will help them better afford their lives. My office is showing once again that when companies take advantage of that good faith to rip Minnesotans off, we will come after them,” Ellison said. “I encourage any Minnesotan who’s been preyed upon by this company or others like it to contact my office so we can hold these bad actors accountable.”
Student-loan debt-relief companies often charge consumers hundreds or thousands of dollars of illegal upfront fees to enroll them in repayment plans or consolidation loans that all eligible federal student-loan borrowers can apply for on their own for free through the United States Department of Education. Often, these companies deceive consumers into believing that the fees will go toward paying down the consumers’ student-loan debt, when the companies actually pocket the fees.
Ellison encourages anyone who has been victimized by Student Education Center and wishes to claim payment of their refund to contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling 651-296-3353 (Metro area) or 800-657-3787 (Greater Minnesota), or by submitting a complaint form on the Attorney General’s website at www.ag.state.mn.us/Office/Complaint.asp.
The Attorney General’s Office encourages borrowers to visit its website for additional information on how to avoid student-loan scams, including a publication entitled Student Loan Assistance Companies that Charge High Fees for What You Can Do for Free. Student-loan borrowers may access the United States Department of Education’s website — www.studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans — for additional information about federal student-loan repayment programs available to all eligible borrowers for free.