News Column

Poconos woman bilked by scammers

July 20, 2014

By Andrew Scott, Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa.

July 20--Joanne Transue of Hamilton Township had used Advance America once to pay off a debt and thought it would be safe to do so again when financial hardships led to her bank account being overdrawn.

What the financially struggling married mother of two didn't know is that, this time, she wasn't dealing with Advance America, but with scam artists instead.

These scammers had copied information from Advance America's website and were posing as representatives of the company, fraudulently taking money from financially desperate people.

"It's a huge problem," said Jamie Fulmer, senior vice president of the South Carolina-based company that offers non-bank cash advances and loans to people looking to finance or pay off debts. "These scam artists are tarnishing the good reputation we've spent nearly two decades building up. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can really do for people who contact us and say they've been scammed by someone pretending to be us."

Payday loan

Transue said she took advantage two years ago of Advance America's payday service to pay off a $500 debt. That's where the company advances someone a loan, which is then paid off through automatic debits from that person's bank account when his/her paycheck is deposited into that account.

Transue has received numerous emails in recent months from someone claiming to be with Advance America. She initially thought these emails were the company's way of reaching out to former customers and reminding them its services are still available if needed.

Transue on July 3 learned her bank account had become overdrawn when money that was supposed to have been deposited into the account wasn't there.

"It's my only account," she said. "It was all the money I had. My next paycheck wouldn't be for another two weeks. None of my family or friends are in any real position to help. I had no idea what I was going to do and I had bills piling up."

Five days later, on July 8, Transue clicked on the most recent of the emails she had received from the people claiming to be with Advance America.

Borrowed from her son

Shortly after submitting requested basic information via email, she was contacted in a series of phone calls by two men claiming to be Advance America loan officers.

"They already had the last four digits of my social security number and knew where I work," Transue said.

The men identified themselves as Kevin Walker and Jack Jones, though she now suspects both are probably the same man.

"We talked and they emailed me a loan confirmation with term conditions, some other information and their phone number," Transue said.

The information she received said the loan was for $5,000, plus an 8 percent interest rate totaling $400, to be paid off in 24 payments of $225 each.

"They told me I needed to buy a Reloadit card for $225 from a store to show I had the amount to pay them and so they could attach the Reloadit card number to my loan file," Transue said. "They said they would then deposit the $5,000 into my bank account."

With an overdrawn account and no other money, she had to borrow the $225 from her son to buy the Reloadit card.

"I felt so ashamed and terrible to have to borrow money, let alone that much money, from my own son," she said in tears. "He's just starting out himself and that's pretty much his paycheck."

Demand for more money

Transue bought the card at an area Weis Market, called Walker back and gave him the card number.

"That's when he told me I needed to go buy another card for $201 for a 'documentation fee,'" she said. "I said, 'Wait a minute, you said nothing about any documentation fee. Something's not right here.' That's when he got testy with me and was like, 'If you want this loan, this is what you have to do.'"

Transue began hearing a lot of static in the background and was unable to hear Walker when he explained the reason for the documentation fee.

"It got so staticky I just hung up," she said. "Then, he called me back and asked, 'Why did you hang up? Don't you want this loan?' I told him, 'I couldn't hear what you were saying.'

"We went back and forth some more and I told him, 'Look, I'm not paying this documentation fee because there's nothing about it mentioned in any of the paperwork you sent me and you mentioned nothing about it when we first spoke,'" she said. "And then, he said, 'Fine, then I'm taking the $225 and you're not getting the loan.' I said, 'You can't do that,' but he hung up. There was no answer when I tried calling back."

Authorities alerted

Transue then told a friend what had happened. When she went to her friend's house, they contacted a customer service phone number on the back of the Reloadit card.

"The customer service rep told me the $225 had been taken off and there was now nothing on the card," she said. "So now, not only did I not have a loan, but I also didn't even have the $225 my son had lent me to buy the card in the first place."

Transue and her friend did some online research.

A reverse phone number lookup shows the number for Walker and Jones, 206-497-4421, registered to Ymax Oration in Washington state, a company name not listed anywhere on the paperwork they had sent her.

No one answered at that number when the Pocono Record called it.

Advance America has nothing to do with Ymax Oration, said Fulmer.

"What these people did to this poor woman is so contrary to how we do business," he said. "We don't conduct transactions over the phone. We're a legitimate, regulated company that provides transparency to our customers. We're up front with the people we serve and don't shy away from anyone questioning our legitimacy.

"The problem is that Pennsylvania isn't one of the 29 states we operate in and there are no regulations there for non-bank loan services," Fulmer said. "This is why people living in non-regulated areas need to be very careful when approached with offers. Don't give out any personal information unless you have some way of guaranteeing the company you're dealing with is legitimate."

Transue has contacted state police and the FBI, Better Business Bureau and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's Fraud Division.

Authorities are investigating.

PROTECT YOURSELF

--Beware of suspicious emails with offers or threats about taxes or other debts owed.

--Don't fill out forms in emails requesting personal information.

--Ensure your computer browser is up to date with proper security patches.

--Check your bank, credit and debit card statements regularly for any unauthorized transactions and contact your bank and all card issuers if anything looks suspicious. Use numbers on the back of your card or bank statement when contacting companies.

--If receiving a suspicious phone call about owing a debt, ask the caller to provide their name, company name, address and phone number and official documentation verifying the debt. Don't provide or confirm your bank account, credit card or Social Security number or other personal information.

--Report suspicious emails or phone calls to Advance America's customer comment line at 888-310-4238 and to local law enforcement.

Source: www.advanceamerica.net.

___

(c)2014 the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa.

Visit the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa. at http://www.poconorecord.com/

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Pocono Record (Stroudsburg, PA)


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