Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Sept. 26, 2013 (Phil Velasquez Chicago Tribune) (Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune / September 26, 2013)

Two companies offering borrowers help with student debt are running scams, according to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, making victims pay up front for sketchy solutions to problems that government programs could help solve for free.

Madigan announced Monday that Illinois is the first state to file suit against two allegedly scammy student debt relief companies, one of which--First American Tax Defense--is based in Chicago.

“The scam for them is preying on financially susceptible individuals by claiming that they can eliminate or reduce your student loan debt,” Madigan said at a news conference Monday. “What they really do is demand your credit card number, your bank account number and immediately charge you as much as $1,200.”

It is illegal in Illinois for companies to charge money for debt relief services before any services have actually been rendered, and such companies must be licensed. First American Tax Defense and Texas-based Broadsword Student Advantage violated both those laws, according to Madigan.

Neither First American Tax Defense nor Broadsword Student Advantage could be reached for comment Monday.

Outstanding student loan debt has reached $1.2 trillion nationwide, and the average Illinois borrower owes $26,400, according to Dev Gowda of Illinois Public Interest Research Group.

Madigan’s office advised borrowers to contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Consumer Law Center if they need help repaying student debt.

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