CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - Steven Griffith loves playing his guitar, but teaching is his passion.
He has the bills to show. After 22 years in the classroom, Griffith still owes $34,000 in student loans.
"Right now it looks like I will retire before I can pay them off," he said.
He incurred loans while working on his Master's Degree and Education Leadership Certificate. Griffith said two years ago, he received a phone call from a company that claimed loan forgiveness help is available.
"I got contacted by this agency that said they were part of the Obama Federal Student Loan forgiveness program," Griffith said. "So they asked for $200 up front and $200 to sign up."
Griffith said he paid the $400 and then started paying them $39 a month.
"I unfortunately put my trust in them," he said.
In October, his bank suspected something was wrong and questioned where his money was going.
"The bank said you better checked into it because I don't think they are legitimate," he said.
His payments were going to the Student Loan Exchange in California.
"None of the money went to my loans," he said. "None of it.'
Griffith has since stopped making the monthly payments. He is filing complaints with the FTC and the U.S. Department of Education. As for the money he already paid, he is now counting it a loss.
"I don't think I will ever recover the money," he said.
The veteran educator wants his experience to be a lesson to anyone struggling with a student loan and looking for help.
"You can't just assume that somebody is actually in the government and is legitimate," he said.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has three Red Flags of a scam:
- The company wants an upfront fee.
- The company promises immediate loan forgiveness.
- The company wants your Federal PIN.
Avoid any so called loan forgiveness program that makes those demands.
You can always inquire with the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman.