This week, a Pennsylvania woman was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for fraudulently obtaining student loans, which she used to pay for plastic surgery and a variety of personal expenses, according to news reports.
Meredith Shuster, 36, hit the credit trifecta by incorporating identity theft, debt and fraud into one scheme: She used her parents’ identities to take out $600,000 in student loans to pay for non-educational expenses. Shuster pleaded guilty to bank and mail fraud in April.
Only about half of the money went toward redesigning her appearance, and the reports didn’t give specifics on the so-called personal expenses.
Regardless of what she spent it on, Shuster was ordered to pay $632,613 in restitution to the federal government, indicating she took out federal student loans, as opposed to private ones. For reference, the average debt load of a college graduate is roughly $26,000.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said she “ultimately hurt students and parents across the country who are struggling to pay for college,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Stealing an identity to get student loans is a growing problem in the U.S. With federal student loans, the Department of Education has to investigate and find the loans to be fraudulent in order to rectify the situation for the victim. Sometimes, this means victims’ credit can suffer for months and months until a resolution is found. You can spot identity theft by checking your credit reports, which you can obtain for free once a year from each of the major credit bureaus. You can also spot identity theft by monitoring your credit on regular basis. The Credit Report Card gives you a free monthly snapshot of your credit, and any major drop in your credit scores could signal identity theft.