The community that calls itself “the friendliest town in Maine” wasn’t feeling so friendly a year ago at this time.
Last June, officials in Wells found they had been named — again — as the homebase for a company that advertised itself as a legitimate loan company. The town website named North Lake Equity Group, which the town determined was using a phony address in Wells to perpetrate what state and local officials have said is an advance payment loan scheme.
“This scam is very similar to the Fairview Financial Services scam that we experienced in 2006,” states the town website. The Wells Police Department reported receiving complaints from around the country about Fairview. Department investigators found no such company operating in Wells; instead, investigators say, “the suspects are allegedly operating an advance fee loan scam out of Ontario, Canada.”
The town website has a rundown of the scam, which works the same way as other advance-fee schemes we’ve studied. The victim receives an email offering a pre-approved loan at a low interest rate. The victim is asked to fill out a form online that requests personal and financial information.
The crooks then notify the victim the loan is approved but ask for one or more up-front payments, for “insurance costs” or “processing fees.” The victim is told to send the money by a wire transfer to someone in Canada — and the victim never sees either the loan or those advance payments again.
Just last Thursday, Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection announced it had been receiving complaints about two more such schemes, both claiming to be located in Portland. One calls itself Hempford Finance Center but may also operate as Hempford Funding Center. A consumer who applied online with Hempford for a $5,000 loan was asked for five payments totaling $887.60 before the “loan” would be made. As always, the company asked for payment via wire transfer from a local supermarket or department store.
Not only could Portland police not find the company at the address listed in its loan documents, the outfit isn’t even supposed to operate in Maine.
“Hempford is not a licensed lender in Maine and is not registered as a corporation authorized to operate in this state,” said David Leach, Principal Examiner with the bureau.
Leach said Metta Capital Funding also came up short: No real street address in Portland and instructions to wire money to someone in Canada.
The bureau says it’s common for the schemers to have money sent thousands of miles from where the supposed business address is; the nature of electronic transfers makes recovery of a victim’s funds unlikely.
The bureau says it has also investigated similar complaints about Bellbrook Finance Center, which claimed falsely to be located in Belfast; Crestridge Capital, purportedly in Belgrade; and Ancaster Solutions, supposedly in West Bath.
Leach says there are a number of reputable lenders who operate in good faith in Maine and who register with the bureau, as Maine law requires. He advises borrowers to deal only with known, licensed lenders and never to wire money to an unknown firm. Bureau officials can answer questions about such matters at 800-332-8529. To view a list of Maine’s supervised lenders visit www.credit.maine.gov.
Learn more about phony lending schemes at www.preventloanscams.org, a project of the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law. Its website has a state-by-state rundown of places to get help and to report abuse.
Report suspected fraud to the Federal Trade Commission website, www.ftc.gov and to your local police department. If the fraud involved used email or the Internet, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.