HOUSTON -- It’s easy to find yourself in a financial pinch around the holidays. But when one Houston family tried to get a loan, they say they were hit with a whammy, and that what happened to them could happen to you.
“I thought it was a legit company,” said Weldon Warren. “I thought it was good.”
Last month, he and his wife couldn’t make ends meet before the next pay check.
So they applied for a pay day loan on-line at the website usapaydayloan.com.
“I felt like if we paid the rent, then everything else would be ok, I could get a little Christmas here,” said wife Cheris Presswood. “I’m like, ‘G-d, I hope this comes through and I hope that it all works out and it all plays out like it should.’”
A day later, they received a phone call, and say they were offered a $1500 loan with one catch:
The lender said they would first need to make one ‘loan payment’ of $188.
It was money they say that they were told they would get back.
“He said he was going to add it all on to our $1500 and put it in our bank account,” said the mother of two.
So, the family paid up using a prepaid credit card.
But then, instead of getting the money, they got another call.
The lender wanted nearly $200 more for the taxes on the loan. Or else.
“He told us that…we were going to get nothing out of it… and you’re still going to get charged for your payments,” said Presswood.
So the family says they pawned their television and sent the money.
In the end, after paying a total of nearly $400, they say their loan money never appeared, but that their lender disappeared.
KHOU 11 News: “How many times did you call him for a week?”
Weldon: “Probably over 100.”
KHOU 11 News: “You called him over 100 times a week?”
Weldon: “And left numerous messages.”
Weldon says he never heard back.
But it turns out Warren Weldon and his wife are not alone. The Better Business Bureau has received dozens of complaints about online loan companies that may be doing a new version of an old con. It’s called ‘the advanced fee scam.’
“We’re seeing complaint-wise that people are paying fees to get the loan,” said the BBB’s Leah Napoliello. “They pay multiple fees and they don’t actually get anything whatsoever. They can’t get a response from the company. They can’t get a refund.”
For example, posing as a customer in need of a loan, KHOU 11 News called one of the many online companies offering assistance. Someone named ‘Mark Johnson’ told us the deal.
KHOU 11 News: “In an hour, in an hour from now I could have $1500?”
Johnson told us sure.
KHOU 11 News: “So basically, you’re saying all I have to do is prove that I have, that I can make the $210 payment and then I can get the $1500 loan?”
Johnson said we were absolutely correct.
KHOU 11 News contacted the National Consumers League in Washington, D.C.
“I don’t think this is legit at all. I think it’s a scam,” said NCL Vice President of Public Policy,
Telecommunications and Fraud, John Breyault. “These are scams where the scammer puts up a legitimate looking website and when consumers call to inquire about getting a loan, they are told the only way they can collect the loan is if they pay a hefty fee upfront. That is the biggest red flag to us of a scam.”
Breyault says one of the top three complaints he sees every year is over advanced fee loans.
“When you try to shut down these scams, it’s a lot like playing a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ at the Fair.
When you hit one, then another one pops up. These scammers know very well how to create a website in a few days, having some phony disposable cell phone numbers,” he said.
As for Mark Johnson, in a second phone call, we identified ourselves as KHOU 11 News, and he told us something interesting-
KHOU 11 News: “So you weren’t going to take our money?”
Johnson: “No, the money was going to be refunded to you along with the loan amount.”
Johnson also told us: “We are not doing anything wrong. We are here to help you, ok? You are applying for the loan, we are approving for your loan (sic) and we are giving you the money, ok?”
As for Weldon Warren and his family, KHOU 11 News called the number listed on the
USApaydayloan.com website several times in an attempt to get comment from the company’s upper-management and see about getting the Warren’s money back.
After being transferred within the company, we ended up at a voicemail account, where we left messages. At press time, no one has called back.
Finally, you should know that there are a number of companies with names that are very similar to usapaydayloan.com, but to our knowledge they have no connection with the main business featured in our story.
However, our experts say if ANY company wants you to ‘give’ money to ‘get’ a loan, just say “no”.