TAKING ACTION: Protecting you from online loan scams

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DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) – A Decatur man learned an expensive lesson the hard way. Now, he’s speaking out to help keep others from becoming a victim of loan scammers. It all began with a simple online check of his credit score, and it wound up costing him some $1,500 before he realized what was happening.

“I’m out $1,500 and that’s put a, really, financial hardship on me than already was.” For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Christopher. It’s not his real name. His only request was that we not reveal his identity here because, he says, its embarrassing.

“And I fell victim hook, line and sinker for it and, you know, lesson learned.”

Christopher’s lesson began on this web page, credit.com. He says he was looking for information on his credit score and perhaps even information about possible lenders. He apparently ventured onto another website, found an application, and filled it out.

“They contacted me within at least 24 hours and told me I had been approved for this loan,” Christopher says, but there was a catch. “They told me to send them $400 for a processing fee and the money would be, within one hour, the money would be in my account.”

Of course, the money didn’t show up and the next day Christopher says called ’em back.

“They told me they were sorry, that there was a fee from the Federal Reserve Board that they needed to process it, for another $1,100.” So Christopher sent another MoneyGram, and a few hours later they called back wanting even more money.

“Upon hearing that, I realized I had been scammed and that I wasn’t going to send them anymore money, and that’s when I contacted y’all.”

So I called these thieves to verify the odds of getting Christopher’s money back. A man with a heavy foreign accent explained, “If you want all those money back, then you have to pay the cancellation charges which is $799 which I already informed you.”

The FBI tells us you have to be suspicious of any business you conduct online. “And these bad guys, these criminals, are very good at pretending to be somebody that they’re not. You may get an email, you may go to a site that looks legitimate when in fact it links to a criminal enterprise,” according to FBI spokesperson Paul Daymond.

As is the case with Credit.com. They’ve been around for years and are widely regarded as a very reputable website. They even post a warning about this very scam on their site. But one link leads you to another, and to another, until like Christopher – you wind up in a place where you don’t want to be.

“I know you told me not to beat myself up but that’s easier said than done. I’m going to be thinking about this for a long time and wondering what was I thinking, why the heck did I do this.”

The so-called loan company Christopher was dealing with were obviously just thieves, and in addition to Christopher’s money also stole the identity of a reputable company to make their scam appear to be legitimate. It’s been going on for some time. We spoke with Gerri Detweiler, Director of Consumer Education at the REAL Credit.com, who sent us the following statement:

“This type of scam can be incredibly frustrating and damaging for both consumers and the legitimate businesses the scammers pretend to be. The scammers may be using the Credit.com name, and they even reference our site, but they have no connection to us or any links or content on the Credit.com website. They are simply pretending to be us, and hoping that the victims believe them, and ultimately give them money. We adhere to strict privacy and security policies and will prosecute any scammers using our name or likeness to the full extent of the law. Unfortunately, it’s very hard for law enforcement to stop the perpetrators, because there are so many of them and they are often overseas. That means that each of us must be vigilant. We do our best to educate the public in general about these and other scams, both in the articles we write and syndicate, and interviews we do. The bottom line when it comes to these advance fee loan scams: Don’t let anyone talk you into using a money transfer or prepaid card with the promise of a loan. Legitimate lenders – including Credit.com’s partners – don’t work like that.”

We gladly point out Christopher is not certain which website actually provided the credit application he filled out. He says he visited so many websites that evening, he simply could not remember how he had been directed to the scammers website. Detweiler says they constantly monitor sites linked  from Credit.com to make certain any link from their site is, in fact, a legitimate business.

The FBI confirms educating the public is the single most important key to stopping these scams. If you have fallen victim to an online scam in which you lost money, you should:

  • Report it to your local police,
  • Log onto www.ic3.gov, an FBI operated website for monitoring online scams,
  • Take steps to protect your bank accounts and debit/credit cards,
  • Contact the three credit reporting agencies to have a Fraud Alert attached to your file,
  • Expect additional fraudulent offers from either the same scammers or others who obtained your contact information from those who first scammed you.