Imagine paying off your student loans, never miss a payment only to find out you’ve been scammed. A woman from Wisconsin Rapids said this has happened to her and now U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin is looking into what she can do to help.

At 70, Anna Wheelock would love to retire, but her student loans are preventing her. After graduating from UW-Madison in 1998 with her MSc and BA in Rehabilitation and Psychology, she had $ 77,000 in federal student debt to repay.

“It was a great education,” Wheelock said. “But it was also very expensive. And for my field of career, I had to start at a low paying position. My first job was paid less than $ 25,000 per year, but that reflected my masters research for my thesis, which worked with underserved communities and women.

Due to her income, Wheelock has been following an income-based payment plan since graduating and says she has never missed a single payment. Her loans have only been withheld once due to personal obligations, however, which never prevented her from paying on time.

“I understood that loans charged interest, but I always thought I would end up making more money. I was a therapist and I worked with schools.

Over the years, Wheelock has worked with nonprofit organizations that help people struggling with drug addiction and addiction. With her income, she could only pay the interest on her loans. Now, 22 years later, Wheelock has $ 134,000 to repay.

“It’s hopeless. I feel defeated and sad. The process is frustrating,” Wheelock added.

But, the increase in debt did not happen overnight. A scam played a big role. In 2014, Wheelock was contacted by a company claiming to offer student loan cancellation programs to those working in the public service. Given Wheelock’s experience working with schools and having made 125 qualifying payments, she figured she would be able to apply.

“I had no reason to believe it wasn’t the government. I never thought people would cheat on student loans, ”Wheelock said. “They knew so much information about me and my loan debt.”

After asking to enter the program, the scammer told Wheelock that she would have to pay them the registration fee to be approved, which was $ 1,200. Wheelock told NewsChannel 7 that she voluntarily paid off, believing that after a few months her debt would be canceled by the government. The crook made him sign the loans.

“A year later, after my son died, I was going through a lot. I had to make sure my loans were taken care of financially, so I contacted the number I had for my student loans, ”Wheelock explained. “That’s when the government told me there was no entry fee for its loan cancellation program.”

After asking follow-up questions regarding her account, she found out that she had been scammed and it had been months since she made a payment, even though she believed it had been taken. in charge. And without interest payments on his loans, the price quickly jumped.

“I was going through a lot in my personal life at the time. I had no reason to believe I was being scammed.

According to Northcentral Technical College, student loan forgiveness scams have become more common over the years. Every time the federal government puts an end to one scam, it seems like another one reappears.

“These types of scams are aggressive advertisements that target student loan borrowers with requests for student loan debt relief or student loan discharge services for a fee,” explained Jeff Cichon, director of the financial aid to Northcentral Technical College.

Scams like the one that Wheelock was a victim of come in many different forms like mail, emails, unsolicited phone calls, and even Facebook ads. The best way to make sure you’re not scammed is to contact your student loan officer directly and never provide personal information over the phone.

Another good rule of thumb to follow is to trust websites that have “.gov” at the end of the URL. If a website is “.com” or even “.org” it increases the chances of being a scam. Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it just might be. Ask very clear and straightforward questions that maybe a scammer wouldn’t be able to answer.

As for Wheelock, she isn’t expecting anything free but is looking into federal loan cancellation programs that could help her reduce her debt or at least her monthly spending on her student loan amount. She plans to continue repaying her loans but hopes that she will not have to continue using her social security to do so.

“I am very happy to have been contacted by Senator Baldwin and look forward to seeing what comes out of it,” said Wheelock. “Even if it doesn’t help me, it will help others down the line. ”

For more information on the Federal Student Loan Program