Experts warn against loan scam by company claiming to be based in Belfast

Posted May 24, 2012, at 5:34 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — The Virginia family of a deployed, active-duty service member is among the victims of a consumer loan scam by a company claiming to be located in Belfast.

Local police and the state Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection issued an alert Thursday to warn consumers to be on guard against such fraudulent schemes.

“Some of the stories of people who were taken advantage of are pretty heartbreaking,” Chief Mike McFadden of the Belfast Police Department said Thursday. “Unfortunately, the culprits do not exist in Belfast. They exist elsewhere.”

In this particular scam, a company called the BellBrook Finance Center solicited the family with a promise of a $5,000 loan. But the family had to make advance payments electronically in order to receive the money, including $2,000 for insurance, $895 for a lender’s fee and $887.50 for five up-front monthly payments.

The money was going to be used so the serviceman’s wife could visit her deployed husband overseas, according to a press release from the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection.

But the offer was bogus, according to the bureau.

“This case is among the most disturbing we’ve investigated in recent years, given the family’s circumstances, the planned use of the loan and the excessive amount of upfront fees,” David Leach, the principal examiner with the bureau, said. “BellBrook Finance Center preyed on a military family who could ill-afford to lose thousands of dollars.”

McFadden said the company used the address of an existing Belfast business that has nothing to do with the scam.

“It was something to make these people feel more comfortable,” he said.

But their dollars were sent somewhere else.

According to the bureau, money transmitted to bogus lenders often winds up thousands of miles from the phony company’s address. Once the advance fee is sent, there is little chance of recovering the funds.

At the beginning of this week, the Belfast police began receiving calls from concerned people in places such as New York, Virginia and Oregon who had fallen victim to the scam.

BellBrook Finance Center is not licensed in Maine as a consumer lender, nor is it listed with corporate filings in the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, Leach said.

A call to a phone number connected to the company ended when an employee hung up on an investigator, according to the press release.

Consumers should never wire or mail certified funds to unknown lenders, and only use known, licensed lenders, according to the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection.

People with questions about the BellBrook Finance Center scam, or potential victims, are asked to call the Belfast Police Department at 338-2420.

In order to verify the status of a lender or to check the state’s licensed, supervised lenders, call the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at 800-332-8529.

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