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How to Spot a Scam Finance Website
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 09/14/2018

Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann is urging consumers to follow five simple tips to avoid getting scammed by websites purporting to offer quick, hassle-free loans or other financial services.

She noted that the department's Consumer Services Office has received multiple complaints regarding a potentially fraudulent financial services website, which advertises a business address in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. The website (www.firsthorizonfinance.com) advertises personal, business, and mortgage loan services. The department's investigative unit determined this website to be a sham enterprise and discovered similar language on other websites offering similar services.

"While the evolution of fintech is changing the ways consumers interact with money, the ease of technology should not undermine anyone's diligence in researching the companies with which we share our personal and financial information," said Wiessmann. "It is so important to be vigilant when searching for financial services both online and in real life."

Wiessmann urges consumers to follow these guidelines when considering doing business with an unfamiliar online business:

- Don't be fooled by flash: A website may look flashy, polished, and professional, but upon closer inspection, you may find the text riddled with misspellings, poor grammar, strange capitalization choices, or descriptions of services that do not make sense.

- Details are important: Does the website lack a FULL physical or postal address? Perhaps under the contact information, you find a road and city name, but no street address. You may notice a telephone number that starts with 0 or another strange number prefix.

- Look for secure website signs: Is the website secure? If a website is asking for your personal and financial information, at the very least it should be a secure website, indicated by https:// (with an "s" for secure) and a "padlock" symbol. This means the website is better protected from hackers and identity thieves.

- Search results can be a clue: Try searching the internet for a unique descriptive phrase on the website and see what comes up in your search. If that exact or very similar language appears on a multitude of other "financial services" websites all promising the same types of services but with different company names, addresses, and contact information, that may be a sign this website is a scam.

- Too good to be true? Does the lender have no interest in your credit or payment history? Scammers may be looking for high-risk borrowers who have fewer lending options and may claim not to care about timely payments or a sub-par credit history.

For borrowers short on cash and in need of emergency funding, Wiessmann suggests working with a bank, a licensed consumer lender, or credit union, including considering the Credit Union Better Choice program, which features short-term loans offered by credit unions.

"My top tip for potential borrowers is call us at 800-PA-BANKS to ensure a lender is properly licensed to do business in Pennsylvania," said Wiessmann. "Speaking with one of our trained professionals can go a long way in helping a consumer protect themselves, knowing they are working with a legitimate business."

Consumers can call the department's Consumer Services Office at 1-800-PA-BANKS or file a complaint online: www.dobs.pa.gov/Consumers/Pages/File-a-Complaint.aspx

For the department's Consumer Advisories and Alerts, visit www.dobs.pa.gov Members of the public are also invited to connect to the department through Facebook and Twitter, or subscribing to the department's newsletter.

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