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by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, October 20, 2008
As the headlines constantly remind us, one outcome of these troubled economic times is that it has become harder to get loans—for a car, home or college education for your child or grandchild. And it’s unlikely to get easier anytime soon.
Yet check out the advertisements: Need money? No problem! In debt? We’ll bail you out! Turned down by your bank? Turn to us!
Many of these offers for “easy” money are through consolidation loans. But beware: While many legitimate lenders help people consolidate their debts into a single monthly payment, others exist solely to line their pockets at the expense of people who are already struggling.
One such company, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), is Torex Capital Group, which operates a website with a slightly different name, www.torexservices.com. Since Aug. 1, the BBB has received numerous complaints from people who responded to newspaper advertisements in Missouri, Florida, Texas and elsewhere promising consolidation loans—only to be bilked with upfront fees ranging from $525 to $1,600.
“It’s the classic advance-fee scam,” says Chris Thetford, an investigator with the St. Louis BBB, where Torex Capital Group claims to be based. “They tell people that they’ve been approved for a personal loan, but in order to get it, they first need to send some money to secure the loan or pay for insurance fees. Once that fee is paid, the company claims the proceeds of the loan will be sent. But they take that money and run … and the victims never get their loans.”
Although Torex Capital Group lists a St. Louis address as its company headquarters, the manager of that office building confirms Torex is not a tenant—and its published suite number does not exist. Moreover, Torex Capital Group is not a registered lender with the Missouri Department of Finance.
Instead, Thetford says, the company is a front for a scam believed to operate out of British Columbia, Canada. In each case reported to the BBB, victims were instructed to wire their advance fees—typically 10 percent of the “approved” loan amount—to Canada, where transactions are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement and money cannot be recovered.
Torex Capital Group does have a St. Louis phone number, but with today’s technology, businesses can purchase U.S.-based telephone numbers outside the country, and scammers often do. Torex officials did not answer telephone calls or e-mails from Scam Alert.
Advance-fee loan scams are common. “We get reports of new cases popping up every month or so,” says Thetford. “They simply create a website or find an address they can use and run ads in local newspapers to recruit victims. And people start sending them money, thinking they’ll get the loan they need.”
To protect yourself:
• Realize that legitimate lenders never ask for upfront fees in order to secure a loan. If you’re asked to wire money, especially outside the United States, the offer is, without question, a scam.
• Be leery of any lender who “guarantees” loans or credit cards—particularly those who claim not to be interested in your credit history.
• Hang up on callers making loan offers. It is illegal for companies doing business in the United States to promise a loan and ask you to pay a fee before delivering, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
• Check lenders’ legitimacy with your state’s department of banking or financial regulation. Being registered with such agencies doesn’t guarantee the lender is legitimate, but not being registered indicates a crook.
If you have fallen victim to an advance-fee loan scam, report it to your state attorney general, the FTC (1-877-382-4357 toll-free) and the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center. The FTC also has information on how to deal with credit problems, including how to select a reputable credit counseling service.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).
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