The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is stepping up its efforts to educate consumers on how to make smart money decisions and avoid scams in the marketplace. One problem area consumers should watch out for is advance fee loan scams.
Despite regular cautions by the BBB, consumers continue to fall for advance fee loan offers in record numbers. The scenario goes something like this: A small printed advertisement appears in the newspaper or on the Internet suggesting “Money to lend, debt consolidation, personal car and small business loans for people who have good/bad credit and past bankruptcies. Call Toll-Free Now!” The caller contacts the number and receives forms asking the consumer to submit personal information, including copies of driver’s licenses, employment records, Social Security numbers, bank account information and credit card numbers.
A few hours or days later a friendly, polite telephone caller responds with the good news. The loan has been approved, but an insurance fee, processing fee or three months advance payment is needed before the loan is released and the check delivered. The customer is asked to pay the fee immediately through electronic transfer of the money. The money is picked-up by the “loan” broker, but the promised loan never arrives and the up front fee paid by the consumer (which can total several thousand dollars) is lost.
Many fraudulent loan offers are made by scam artists operating out of Canada. BBB experience shows that attempts to contact the individuals in question usually prove unsuccessful. It is very seldom that the company can be located to get the loan fee returned to the consumer.
The BBB advises consumers who are in need of extra cash to thoroughly investigate all advertised offers of “easy credit” or “easy loans” from unfamiliar loan brokers, particularly those originating out-of-state or out-of-country.
You need to ask yourself, why is this company, which I have never heard of, and which does not know me, willing to give me a loan?” BBB experience indicates that the following are signs of advance fee loan fraud:
- Pressure to act immediately. Advance fee loan schemers will try to get you to send money or give out personal information (credit card number, bank account information and Social Security number) before you get any paperwork. Insist on receiving the necessary paperwork before deciding whether to apply for credit.
- Will not provide location information. If the loan broker hesitates to tell you their physical location, beware that this is a common ploy to avoid law enforcement detection. Refuse to do business with the broker until you have their physical address or location and can check them out with the BBB. There are BBBs throughout the U.S. and Canada.
- Questionable connections to established financial institutions. Many of these schemers are merely telephone sales operations, so no connection will exist to an established financial institution. Ask which lenders the “loan broker” deals with, and ask for the physical address of the lender. Then contact the BBB in that city to request information on the lender.
Consumers should keep the following points in mind before responding to ads that promise easy credit, regardless of your credit history:
- Legitimate lenders never “guarantee” or say that you are likely to get a loan before you apply, especially if you have bad credit, no credit or a history of bankruptcy.
- If you apply for a real estate loan, it is accepted and common practice for lenders to request payment for a credit report or appraisal. However, legitimate lenders never ask you to pay for processing your application.
- Never give your credit card account number, bank account information or Social Security number over the telephone or Internet unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is necessary.
- If you do not have the offer in hand – or confirmed in writing – and you are asked to pay, do not do it. It is fraud and it is against the law.
If you think you have been a victim of an advance fee loan, contact your Better Business Bureau, your local consumer protection agency or state Attorney General.