Advance fee loan fraud takes advantage of the most vulnerable members of our society. These leeches often promise large unsecured loans to people who are unable to have a loan approved through traditional financial institutions, or take advantage of trusting souls with little financial experience. Armed with a smooth-as-silk sales routine and a complete lack of conscience, these scam artists often steal amounts that range from hundreds to thousands of dollars from unsuspecting consumers. Adding insult to injury, these losers often gather enough personal information from their victims to make them candidates for identity theft. Don’t become a victim! Please review and share the tips below.
Scammers Hijack the Names of REAL Companies
The Federal Trade Commission has information on their website that discusses how the advance-fee loan scam works.
Please note item #4 from the FTC: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0078-advance-fee-loans
“Crooks give their companies names that sound like well-known or respected organizations and create websites that look professional. Some scam artists have pretended to be the Better Business Bureau, a major bank, or another reputable organization; some even produce forged paperwork or pay people to pretend to be references. Always get a company’s phone number from the phone book or directory assistance, and call to check they are who they say they are. Get a physical address, too: a company that advertises a PO Box as its address is one to check out with the appropriate authorities.”
Loan fraud warning signs:
- Be especially wary of unsolicited calls, e-mails or letters offering you a loan.
- Calls about a delinquent debt from unknown numbers, claiming to represent a collection agency or cash advance company (especially if you know you have no such delinquency).
- Requests for money to be sent in advance to cover “processing”, “application”, “insurance”, or the “first month’s payment” are a red flag of loan scams. Legitimate lenders NEVER ask for these things to be paid before a loan is disbursed.
- Once you fall for a loan scam, the greedy thieves may ask for even more money by telling that the original amount was erroneous, insufficient upon a second look at your credit, or that you will need to send payment for a second company to complete the loan process.
- Requests that you “wire” or “send” money, as soon as possible to a large U.S. city or to another country, such as Canada, England, or Nigeria, by Western Union, Moneygram, or similar means.
- Do not respond to loan solicitations in classified ads. Lenders do not post classifieds!
- Do not respond to solicitations by persons using free email accounts.
- Beware of offers that you encounter on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Ensure that you land directly on the real organization’s webpage — not an imposter’s (for example, if the link tells you that it’s “Capital One” then your final destination after the click should be the Capital One website).
If you’ve been scammed, do the following:
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission
- Also, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center
- Contact your local police (but don’t automatically assume the company name and address on your documents are legitimate. Remember, the scammers use fake addresses, those of REAL companies, or random residential addresses far away, in order to hide their operation)
- File fraud alerts with each of the three credit bureaus. This is necessary because the scammers typically obtain your sensitive information, such as your Social Security Number and information on your driver’s license. They can use this to obtain credit in your name. Visit TransUnion.com, Experian.com, and Equifax.com to begin this process.
How scammers typically find their victims
You may be on their list. If you have applied for loans lately, you can be assured that your need for financial assistance has been made known to others besides the company to which you have applied. Often, such consumer information is sold by the credit reporting agencies, passing into hands far and wide. This practice makes it easy for unscrupulous companies to find potential victims for scams like advance fee loans. Be wary of unsolicited offers promising guaranteed loan approval made by mail, phone, or email, especially if personal information is requested. Never give out any personal information, such as your social security or bank account numbers, unless it is to a trusted company with which you have initiated contact.
In other cases, the consumer may come across an advertisement that offers loans, often assuring the reader that poor credit or no credit is not a problem. Commonly appearing in classified sections of newspapers or posted on the Internet, these ads are often placed in very reputable publications or on respected web sites in an attempt to lend credibility to their claims. Others have used the names and logos of well-established financial institutions, counterfeiting their ads but inserting their own contact information, leading the consumer to believe they have placed a call to a legitimate lender.
The Typical Advance Fee Loan Scheme
There are many variations of personal loan scams, but the basic steps remain the same in most of these schemes. First, the consumer is assured that they have qualified for an unsecured loan, usually for a large sum of money. Often, these consumers will be sent authentic looking documents and loan contracts to convince them that this is indeed a legitimate offer. Many times, these documents are embossed with fraudulent logos and names stolen from reputable lenders, helping to convince the consumer that this company can be trusted.
Correspondence from the scammers, including calls, emails, contracts, and letterhead, may seem very professional. This is meant to smooth away any suspicions the target of this scam may be feeling, part of the manipulation these predators practice so skillfully.
Next, the consumer is told that due to the amount of the loan or their questionable credit rating, a deposit is needed. This up front payment is often explained away as a down payment, insurance premium, or processing fee and can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand. Generally, the scammers will then instruct the consumer to send the deposit through Western Union or Moneygram, and fax applications complete with personal and financial information to them, with the assurance that they will receive their loan very quickly after these steps are taken. Of course, the consumer receives nothing, while the scammer disappears with both the deposit and all the information needed for identity theft.
Some of these fraudulent advance fee loan companies will make repeated demands for money from their victims, convincing them that upon looking up a current credit report, their ratings require a larger deposit than was first quoted. Another common excuse is that the original lender has backed out, but for a larger fee, they can secure another loan for the consumer. With these tactics and others, scammers have often convinced consumers to send substantial sums of money three or four times before they realize they have been victimized.
Usually, by the time the consumer has given up on receiving the funds they expected, coming to the realization they have been scammed, the perpetrators have disappeared. The toll free numbers provided are disconnected or are answered by a recording or machine, the operation probably moved to a new location to stay one step ahead of the law and groom a new batch of potential victims.
No legitimate lender will ask for funds in advance of a loan, nor will it ask for any fee to be wired to them directly by Western Union, Moneygram, or any other wire service. Fees incurred in a legitimate loan generally are deducted before the funds are dispersed. These requests should be a clear warning to the consumer, as should any loan company that is pressing you for an instant decision on their offer.
Report fraud and scams to authorities
Reporting this crime is essential. Many are ashamed to admit that they have been conned by such schemes, failing to report the fraud due to embarrassment. Those that do not make these crimes known leave the door open for these predators to strike again. While reporting such crimes does not always assure that the scam artist is caught, it does raise awareness of these schemes, shrinking their pool of potential victims. Filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission can be done online in approximately ten minutes. This small investment of your time can help towards shutting these operations down before they victimize scores of other unsuspecting consumers.
If these criminals have collected your personal identifying information, identity theft is a serious risk. With access to information from your social security card, driver’s license, pay stubs, and bank statements, stealing your identity will be quite easy, allowing these scammers to use your credit for their own purposes. Thousands in debt could be run up in your name in a very short period. Checking your credit report every three months to monitor for fraudulent activity is a good idea under such circumstances. If there is a problem, file formal disputes with each credit bureau.