Commissioner's Blog - Online loan scam = deeper debt
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With Acting Consumer Protection Commissioner David Hillyard
If you’re applying for a loan online the last thing you need is to lose money in the process but unfortunately that’s what has been happening to a number of people here in the West and over East. In the last few weeks consumers have contacted WA ScamNet at Consumer Protection after being defrauded by scammers posing as Mercury Money – a legitimate brokerage company based in Perth.
The consumers filled in online applications for unsecured loans and after receiving email confirmation of their acceptance were asked to pay establishment fees or loan insurance into bank accounts based in Australia or New Zealand. One man lost $6,000 and one woman paid $4,000. Two men almost paid $1200 each and one woman sent $980 offshore to India – all three of these people contacted the real Mercury Money and discovered the truth.
Finance broker Alex Palmer of Mercury Money Pty Ltd is also a victim due to his company’s identity being stolen. He has been helping WA Police Major Fraud Squad with their investigation into the matter and was one of the initial people to report the scam after being contacted by consumers dealing with the fake version of Mercury Money. Mr Palmer has helped to prevent people from losing money by advising them that it is a scam before they transferred funds. He has also put up a warning on his website: www.mercurymoney.com.au
It’s not the first time this has happened. In 2014 Consumer Protection issued a similar warning about scammers stealing the identity of legitimate money lenders. In the last 12 months WA ScamNet has received reports from 17 people who have lost more than $40,000 in total by paying fees or insurance upfront for non-existent finance after applying for loans online.
The victims of online loan scams tend to have had their loan applications from traditional lenders rejected making them susceptible. Often we are talking about people in desperate financial circumstances, which sadly means they can least afford to lose money to scammers.
Usually we tell consumers to only deal with licensed credit providers, however it can be very confusing when scammers pretend to be a licensed credit provider and provide realistic looking applications and clones of web pages as in this case.
Online loan scam prevention tips:
- When looking for a loan online check the lender is licensed by looking on the Australian Securities and Investments Commissioner (ASIC) website www.asic.gov.au BUT remember that scammers also have access to this information and can copy the details of a registered credit provider in order to pretend to be them.
- Double check that a website is the official site for a lender and not a fake version – look for a padlock symbol in the web address to show it is secure and usually if it’s in Australia it will end with .com.au
- Verify that the email address truly belongs to the registered company you think you are dealing with. Generally scammers use free email services such as gmail or yahoo.
- Be very suspicious about requests to pay fees upfront that involve wire transferring the money or putting it into bank accounts. Get advice from Consumer Protection (1300 30 40 54) or ASIC (1300 300 630) before going ahead.
- When sending emails type the address into your ‘To’ box rather than hitting reply to prevent conversations with hackers.
- Remember that just because a phone number begins with an Australian prefix does not mean the person you are talking to is based in this country – they could be re-routing the number using technology known as VoIP.
- Know that clicking on links in emails or clicking on online advertisements may take you to fake websites.
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