SoFi Lending Corp. and a handful of other companies are behind a scheme whereby federal student loan borrowers are preyed upon via “tens of thousands” of robocalls that use “spoofed” telephone numbers and prerecorded messages, a proposed class action lawsuit alleges.
According to the case, the robocalls at issue feature carefully crafted messages that make it appear as though the companies are calling on behalf of the state and/or federal government to help borrowers obtain loan forgiveness. It’s through these illegal robocalls, the 49-page case claims, that several yet-to-be-identified telemarketing companies have stolen federal student loan borrowers’ voiceprints.
Three other companies named as defendants in the suit—Onvoy, Inteliquent and IP Horizon Communications—helped facilitate the apparent scheme by providing caller ID “spoofing,” voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) and other robocall services and technologies, the suit alleges.
Also to blame, the lawsuit says, is the Higher Education Loan Authority of the State of Missouri (MOHELA), who, as the servicing agent for SoFi, negligently allowed the so-called fraudster telemarketers to access federal student loan borrower contact information and thereby enabled the targeting of these consumers.
The suit stresses that the alleged robocalls are “purposely designed to trick borrowers” into disclosing their personal, financial and biometric information “that can (and soon very likely will) be used for fraudulent purposes.”
According to the complaint, the robocalls are particularly dangerous in that stolen voiceprints can be easily used to hack into individual borrowers’ financial accounts at institutions who use voiceprint technology to verify an accountholder’s identity. Most major financial institutions in the U.S. use voiceprint identification technology, the case says.
The lawsuit aims to force the defendants to immediately purge all voiceprint data and other biometric information stored in their systems and to reveal the identities of the telemarketers and call centers that also participated in the alleged student loan forgiveness robocall scheme. The case alleges SoFi and its co-defendants have violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Florida Telephone Solicitation Act and Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.
Which robocalls are mentioned in the lawsuit?
The lawsuit alleges Onvoy, Inteliquent, and IP Horizon Communications, as agents of SoFi and MOHELA, have used automated systems to place robocalls to student loan borrowers whose loans are serviced by MOHELA. The calls play fraudulent prerecorded messages when a consumer answers, at which time the person’s biometric voiceprint is captured, the suit specifies. In other cases, a fraudulent prerecorded message may be delivered directly to a consumer’s voicemail, the lawsuit says.
At issue in the case are two prerecorded messages from computer-generated voices who identify themselves as “Mary Fuller,” “David Miller,” “David Fuller,” “Elizabeth Adler” and “Margaret Smith.” According to the complaint, one of the prerecorded robocalls relays:
Hello, my name is [Mary Fuller] with the Division of Economic Impact with an important statewide update. We are required by the state to inform those on our list that have student loan debt that you now have access to the Economic Impact Student Debt Relief Program being offered to you during this special enrollment period. The Biden Administration has eliminated over 58 billion dollars in student debt and has now extended the enrollment period. This is a great opportunity for you to significantly reduce or, in most cases, eliminate your student loan debt altogether! However, the window for the special enrollment period can close at any time. So please call our consumer direct line at 970-707-5751. This message has been marked complete on behalf of the Division of Economic Impact. Please call now.”
Per the case, other student loan borrowers have received “an avalanche” of prerecorded messages, specifically with the following script, delivered by way of an artificial intelligence “bot” directly to their voicemails:
I am the virtual assistant for Margaret Smith with the Central Processing Center for federal student loans. The purpose of her call was to make you aware that the new presidential Joe Biden Administration supports forgiving $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower, as well as excuses borrowers for making their payments in February, if not longer. Using our automated technology, you are now able to obtain enrollment information based on your current situation. To use our AI automation and find the program you are approved for, you will need to write down the website. I will also deliver a text message that will provide a link with the program benefits. Would you like to hear the website and receive a text message?”
Should a federal student loan borrower respond with the word “yes” at the end of the AI bot message or call 970-707-5751 in response to the first prerecorded message, one of two things occur, the lawsuit says.
The case claims that as of several months ago, the robocalls directed borrowers to the Pathways Student Loan Program, which was administered by MOHELA and is, the lawsuit alleges, “a private student loan refinancing product meant solely for borrowers with private student loans made by SoFi that are currently in default or are otherwise behind on their scheduled payments.”
“It is not designed to be marketed or used by federal student loan borrowers,” the case says of the program.
In a more recent scenario, should a borrower answer “yes” to any of the artificial voices purporting to be Mary Fuller, David Miller, Robert Fuller or Elizabeth Adler, or should they call back 970-707-5751, they will be connected by Onvoy, Inteliquent or IP Horizon Communications to any one of the telemarketing defendants’ call centers, where agents will falsely claim to work for the “Central Processing Center for Student Loan Forgiveness Applications” and attempt to fraudulently gather confidential personal and biometric information, the lawsuit says.
What numbers does the suit say the robocalls come from?
Per the filing, the “spoofed” numbers used by the defendants include, but are not limited to, 707-400-1797, 469-591-0111, 845-847-1797, 934-204-3579, 239-488-3442, among “many others.” The call-back number provided to many robocall recipients is 970-707-5751, the suit says.
An environment of uncertainty for student loan borrowers
As the lawsuit tells it, the robocalls are “particularly dangerous” given the potential for confusion in the current student loan servicing market. The suit relays that tens of thousands of federal student loan borrowers are eligible for public service loan forgiveness or temporary expanded public service loan forgiveness based on their years of work for governmental agencies and non-profits. Others may be eligible for a discharge of their remaining student loan balance if, for instance, they attended a fraudulent trade school, the case adds.
Compounding the general uncertainty are multiple student loan payment pauses amid the pandemic and regular news reports on the government’s potential support for waiving as much as $10,000 in student loan debt for all borrowers, the complaint continues. Broadly, there exists for student loan borrowers a “chaotic and uncertain environment” wherein they do not know “if or when their loan balance, or a portion of their balance, will be forgiven,” the suit says.
“This unusual and uncertain environment for loan forgiveness eligibility puts federal student loan borrowers—eager to learn if and when their federal loans will be forgiven—at heightened risk of identity theft and fraud when Defendants cause these illegal robocalls with artificial prerecorded messages promising loan forgiveness to be delivered to borrowers’ telephones,” the case reads.
Who’s covered by the class action?
The lawsuit aims to cover all persons in the United States who received one or more calls or direct voicemails that fit the format of the two prerecorded calls described on this page and who are or were federal student loan borrowers at the time they received the first telephone call or voicemail message.
How can I be added to the lawsuit?
Generally speaking, there’s nothing you need to do to join, be added to or be considered included in the proposed class action detailed on this page. If the case proceeds and eventually settles, then consumers who are covered by the suit, called “class members,” would receive notice of the deal with instructions on how to file a claim either online or by mail.