Over the past few years, a growing number of scammers have targeted consumers throughout the country, using the reputation of legitimate, respected lenders to collect money or personal financial information from unsuspecting consumers.
This week marks National Consumer Protection Week, a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. To commemorate this week, and better educate consumers about financial fraud, we are providing consumers with warning signs and tips for avoiding financial scams.
Advance America urges consumers to identify the signs of fraud this week and throughout the year. If you suspect you're being contacted by a financial scammer claiming to represent Advance America, please call 1-888-310-4238.
Learn the signs of a scam
Federal law strictly regulates how real bill collectors and loan agents can do business. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) specifically prohibits debt collectors from being abusive, unfair or deceptive in trying to collect a debt. The law specifically says debt collectors cannot threaten consumers with arrest or jail time if they don't pay their bill. If someone claims you will face criminal prosecution unless you immediately wire them money, it's almost certainly a scam.
Scammers may also claim that you have been pre-approved for a loan, and then require you to purchase a prepaid debit card or wire money as a "processing fee" or "good faith deposit." Others may really be identity thieves out to get your personal or financial information.
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.