Advance-fee loans often costly scams

LOS ANGELES These loans may just be the start of even more trouble for you. Consumer watchdog groups warn that the shaky economy is giving these shaky offers new life.

Cherie Lewis is doing her best to take care of her family. She works full time and tries to stay on top of her bills. But recently life got really tough and she needed help.

"We've been behind on things. We were not able to get a loan through the bank because of credit reasons," said Cherie.

Cherie found an offer online that promised her money despite her credit history. She contacted the company and quickly received a letter telling her she qualified. So she started to dream about what she could do with the cash.

"Pay off some past debt, and then be able to fix up our house a little bit and have some good times with our kids this year," said Cherie.

The catch -- she had to send the lender some money first. She wired more than $1,000 to an account in Canada, but grew suspicious when the company called asking for more.

"So we decided that we didn't want to do it anymore, and asked for our money back," said Cherie.

But the refund never came, and the phone number the company gave her was suddenly disconnected.

The Better Business Bureau says this type of advance-fee loan was a popular rip-off years ago, but it's making a comeback.

"In 2007, we've seen a 73 percent increase over 2006. This is a direct result of the credit crunch," said Sheila Adkins from the Better Business Bureau.

And in a new and dangerous twist, experts warn advance-fee loan sharks are now asking for lots of personal information.

So how do you know if you're applying for a legitimate loan, or falling for a scam?

"Anytime you're talking to people - you're not meeting in person - over the telephone about a loan, and they want any money before you get loan proceeds, that is against the law," said Steven Baker from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

There's one request that should make your warning alarm go off:

"If they ask you to wire the money through Western Union or a MoneyGram, run, run, run, because you're going to get robbed if you go along with it."

The FTC says many of these bogus offers come from Canada, and they're working closely with the Canadian government to try to stop them. Cherie filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and learned there's already a big file against the company that took her money. Experts say these scammers often pick names that impersonate legitimate lenders, so always do your homework.

Click here to visit the Web site for the Better Business Bureau


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