CHICAGO (WLS) --A program to reduce student loans may sound irresistible, but the Illinois Attorney General warns two businesses offering those services may be frauds.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed two lawsuits Monday against companies that say they can help people pay off their student loans. The suits claim the businesses were deceptive and illegally charged consumers for something they could have gotten for free.
Chicago Police Officer Sharone Brown said she almost paid hundreds of dollars to Broadsword Student Advantage after hearing a radio ad. Brown says when she called, representatives told her she could reduce her loan payment by $400 a month, but for the first three months, she would have to pay almost $600 to get the process going.
"Actually, I did not pay because what I did is: I did my research," Brown said.
Brown said government officials told her to steer clear of the offer. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan alleges it's a scam. Her office filed two lawsuits against Broadsword, which is based in Texas, and First American Tax Defense, based in northwest suburban Park Ridge. The ABC7 I-Team stopped by First American to find the office door locked and no one answering. The owner, Gustavo Montes, is also listed in the lawsuit.
"The scammers make too good to be true claims that are aggressively advertised on the radio, TV, internet and even on posters on lamp posts on communities," Madigan said.
Madigan's suit calls both companies "unlicensed" and accuses them of engaging in deceptive marketing practices. Madigan also says the companies illegally charged consumers up to $1,200 in upfront or monthly fees for "bogus" services, promising to lower student loan payments- and in some cases enrolling people in an "Obama forgiveness program," which isn't even real.
"They claim that they are able to cut your debt in half or have your student loan totally forgiven," Madigan said.
Investigators say in most cases the companies in question don't follow through with any loan re-payment services.
Even more disturbing, Madigan says, many of those types of services are available for free through the U.S. Department of Education.
The AG's office warns consumer they should never pay for information about how to pay back student loans; and reminds them to inquire about re-payment options with government agencies or loan providers.
"It is still not morally right to offer false promises and hope to people that are the most vulnerable," Brown said.
The lawsuits are the first of their kind in the nation.
Neither First American Tax Defense nor Broadsword has yet to comment. The listed number for First American was not working. ABC7 left a message for a spokesperson at Broadsword.
Nearly 40 million Americans have $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. For student loan help, download information from Madigan's office .
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