(9/27/18) Louisiana consumers have recently been targeted by scammers pretending to represent Advance America, a national small-dollar loan provider.

This is how it works. The scammers contact residents offering approval for personal loans in exchange for payment through gift card codes.  When they get the gift card codes, they are invalid.  Scams like this typically take the form of contact with residents claiming that they will quickly be approved for a loan as long as the respondent is willing to wire money as a “processing fee” or “good faith deposit.” In other cases, scammers seek to collect on “unpaid” small-dollar loan debt, often threatening arrest or legal action or demanding personal financial information over the phone.

Advance America says they are in no way connected to this.  “Scammers often use the reputation of a legitimate, respected business to con victims out of their money,” said Patrick O’Shaughnessy, president and CEO of Advance America. “Legitimate short-term lenders such as Advance America are highly regulated at both the state and federal level and will never use the kind of fraudulent and illegal tactics employed by scam artists.”

How to Avoid Scams:

In addition to understanding how lenders and bill collectors can operate, consumers should also take steps to protect themselves, including:

·         Never give personal information such as your Social Security number or bank account information online or over the phone without verifying that you are working with a legitimate lender or bill collector. Verify company licenses when applying for a loan online.  Legitimate lenders will display their licenses on their websites to verify they are fully licensed in your state and comply with state and federal laws.

·         Be suspicious of any email with urgent requests for personal financial information. If an email makes upsetting or exciting false statements, it’s likely a scam.

·         Never wire money or provide prepaid debit card information to a lender claiming you have been pre-approved for a loan and must make an initial payment as a “show of good faith.” Legitimate lenders do not offer approvals prior to application and do not require good faith deposits.

·         Keep anti-virus, anti-malware, and spam email protection software up to date on all your computing devices.

·         Maintain a record of all outstanding debt and include lender contact information.

·         Regularly check your bank, credit and debit card statements to ensure there are no unauthorized transactions. Likewise, check your credit report (using Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) every four months on a rotating basis; credit reports are often one of the first places where signs of identity theft or fraud will appear.

·         If someone approaches you claiming you owe them a debt, demand they provide written proof of the debt as the law requires – especially if it’s for a charge you don’t recognize.