Education, immigration complaints on the rise, attorney general says

Consumer debt and identity theft once again topped the annual list of consumer fraud complaints in Illinois, but education-related complaints are gaining ground.

The Illinois attorney general's office received nearly 1,700 complaints last year about for-profit colleges and student loan debt, moving the education category up one notch to No. 6 on the top 10 list of consumer fraud reports.

"Most of the complaints ... regarding education really flow from two areas," Attorney General Lisa Madigan said at a news conference Monday. "One (is) predatory for-profit schools, and the other one is students and former students who are contending with their student loan debt."

Fraud associated with the beleaguered for-profit college industry landed education on the top 10 list for the first time in 2015.

Last year, Downers Grove-based DeVry University agreed to pay $100 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit alleging the for-profit college misled students about their job prospects. In September, ITT Technical Institute ceased operations after the U.S. Department of Education cut off access to federal financial aid for new students over accreditation criteria.

Madigan filed a lawsuit in January in Cook County Circuit Court alleging student loan servicer Navient failed to properly assist borrowers struggling with loans. Navient denies those allegations.

The attorney general's office received 23,735 complaints last year, with nearly, 2,800 relating to consumer debt, including issues such as abusive collection practices and predatory payday loans. Identify theft remained a close second, with about 2,400 complaints last year.

Rounding out the top 10 list were phone scams and investment, construction and remodeling, telemarketers, education, used car sales, internet sales, car repairs, and new car sales.

With the federal crackdown on illegal immigration under President Donald Trump, a growing area of underreported consumer fraud in Illinois relates to so-called notarios who offer immigration consulting services but often lack the legal expertise necessary to help their clients.

"It is absolutely on the rise right now," Madigan said.

She said immigrants who fall victim to such scams are reluctant to report it for fear of being deported.

"We do not ask for people's legal status; we do not ask for Social Security numbers when they file complaints," she said. "If there's fraud taking place, we want to know."

The FTC released its own annual top 10 consumer complaint list last week. Last year, the FTC received more than 3.1 million consumer complaints. Debt collection topped the list, with impostor scams passing identity theft among the top three.