The Internet is littered with ads promoting the Obama Administration’s Student-Loan Forgiveness Program. There have been TV ads about it, too. The only problem: No such program exists.

If you respond to one of these ads, the company behind it likely will push you to pay hundreds of dollars in hopes of having your loan payments modified or your loan forgiven entirely. If you hand over this money, the company probably will do nothing more than complete a simple form to consolidate your federal student loans into a single payment…or perhaps apply for a legitimate federal loan forgiveness program on your behalf—a program for which you almost certainly will not qualify. And you could have easily done either of these things for free by yourself. An especially disreputable company also might sell your personal information to ID thieves.

What to do: Ignore ads or e-mails promising student-loan forgiveness, reduction and/or consolidation.

If you want to consolidate multiple federal student loans into a single loan, visit the US Department of Education website StudentLoans.gov (click the “Managing Repayment” tab, then select ­“Direct Consolidation Loans”). But doing so is not always wise. It might make bill-­paying a little easier, but it also means that you will no longer have the option of accelerating your payments on the particular loan that has the highest interest rate, a smart way to reduce the overall cost of debt. And because the interest rate on your consolidated loan will be the weighted average of your existing loans rounded up to the next one-eighth percentage point, consolidation often leads to slightly higher, not lower, total loan payments.

Federal student-loan forgiveness is in reality very rare, available only in extremely specific circumstances, such as for certain people who become teachers…or who work in the public service or nonprofit sectors for extended periods.