St. Louis, Mo., June 11, 2007 – A Miami, Fla., mother sent $1,830 for a $5,000 loan to a company that uses a St. Louis address and received nothing in return, she told the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
The consumer applied for the loan in an effort to pay for her child’s surgery. She accepted the loan on May 31, 2007, from Centerline Financial Group, which uses the address of 1001 Craig Rd., St. Louis, Mo. After faxing the agreement to the company she said she was called by a person identifying himself as Ben Fisher, customer service manager. She said he told her to wire payments totaling $1,830 in collateral for the loan. She wired the money to the “head of accounting,” Alice Workman, in Ontario, Canada.
The loan proceeds didn’t arrive as promised. She said, “I was in tears and contacted the company. They said that a refund had been activated. I never received it. I was so desperate and they took advantage of it. I was trying to pay for my daughter’s surgery. I have three kids and my refrigerator is empty. They have stripped me of everything.”
Recently, the BBB has received 17 complaints and reports against the company. Complainants report that they searched for loans online and came across the firm’s Web site at
http://www.centerlinefinancial.org. Consumers who completed the online application, said they received phone calls from firm representatives identifying themselves as Peter Debow, Mark Gardener, Jason Fleming or Ben Fisher, who asked them to wire amounts ranging from $900 to $2,300 to representatives in Canada with the names Melanie Thames, Christine Flocher, Diane C. Parker, Nancy Salem or Alice Workman. Consumers report the company requested the payments as security deposits, because of poor credit scores.
A Montclair, N.J., consumer said she was promised a $25,000 personal loan from Centerline Financial Group. The consumer accepted the loan, and received a phone call on May 25, 2007, from Peter Debow who told her to wire $1,960 to representatives in Alberta, Canada, for collateral to secure the loan. The consumer complied and was told the loan would be deposited in her account the following day. She said, “That was our rent money. It has placed a great financial hardship on us.”
A Bayside, N.Y., consumer sent $1,200 to secure a loan for $7,000. He received a call from a representative named Jason Fleming who told him to wire the money to Alberta to complete the process. He wired the funds via money gram, and the loan proceeds were never placed in his bank account. When he contacted the company, they promised a refund, but it has not shown up. He said, “I visited the Web site and it seemed legit, so I didn’t think twice.”
The registrant of the Web site, http://www.centerlinefinancial.org, is listed as Steven Strickler, 36 Sandfield Rd., Wardensville, W.V. The address listed on the company’s loan agreement is an office building in a suburb of St. Louis. A spokesperson for the property management company said she has never heard of the company.
The firm is not registered with the state, according to the Missouri secretary of state’s Web site. A representative of the Missouri Division of Finance told the BBB that Centerline Financial Group is not licensed by its office. A loan agreement identifies Allen J. Watson as the CEO of Centerline Financial Group.
The BBB offers the following general tips regarding advance fee loans:
- Reputable lenders never guarantee or promise that you will receive a loan before you apply, or before they have checked your credit report, especially if you have bad credit or no credit record.
- It is illegal for companies doing business by phone to promise you a loan and ask you to pay a fee for it before they deliver.
- Don’t give your credit card, bank account, or Social Security number on the telephone, by fax, or via the Internet unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is necessary.
- When entering personal data on a Web site, look for a “locked padlock” in the browser or “https” at the beginning of the Web site address to make sure the site is secure.
- Don’t send money or money orders for a loan by wire. You have little recourse if there’s a problem with a wire transaction. Reputable lenders don’t pressure you to wire funds.
- Make sure the company’s physical address and phone number are available on its Web site. If they’re not available, ask the broker for this information. If the loan broker hesitates to tell you the physical location of the company, beware this is a common ploy to avoid law enforcement detection. Refuse to do business with the broker until you have obtained and verified its physical address or location.
- Obtain the company’s number in the phone book or from directory assistance, and call it to make sure you’re dealing with the company you think you are.
- If the broker claims to have connections to established financial institutions, ask which lender the company deals with, and ask for the physical address of the lender.
- If you think you’ve been victimized by an advance fee loan scam, you may file a complaint with the BBB at 314-645-3300 or by visiting www.contactbbb.org or with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357 or by visiting www.ftc.gov. If the company is located in Canada, you may report it to “Phonebusters, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Center” at 1-888-495-8501 or by visiting www.phonebusters.com.
Please contact GeGe Mix, BBB, at (314) 645-4636 for information regarding complainants who are available for media contact.