Dear Consumer Ed: 

I got a call from a man in Washington, D.C. who said he was with a payday loan company, telling me that I had received a loan for $1,000.   He gave me a confirmation number and told me I had to call his senior loan manager in order for the loan to go forward.  He then told me I had to pick the money up at a Western Union.  I declined, but am interested to know if this is legit.

Consumer Ed says: 

Almost certainly it is not.  At best, the phone call is likely just a scheme for the caller to make contact with you in order to sell you a loan or other product; at worst, it is a scam designed to get you to give over personal financial information so that the caller can then steal your money, commit identity theft, or both.

It is very unlikely that you actually have been approved to receive a payday loan because payday loans – indeed, all loans – require some sort of application and credit check, and you did not submit an application or take any other steps to apply for the loan.  What’s more, payday loans are generally illegal in Georgia.  So, a legitimate business would not attempt to contact any Georgia consumer about a payday loan.

According to Georgia law, it is illegal for someone to represent that a person has been selected to receive something when in fact the purpose of the call is really to make contact with prospective clients.  It is also unlawful to represent that a consumer has been “pre-approved” for a loan and then inform the consumer that he or she has to meet additional conditions in order to get the loan.

Another indication that this phone call is not on the up-and-up is the fact that the caller is a stranger, reaching you by phone, and asking you to use Western Union.  As a general rule, you should never give a stranger your bank account information, Social Security number or full name and address over the phone.  The use of Western Union is especially suspicious.  Legitimate lenders will not ask you to use Western Union.  Western Union is really meant for wiring cash quickly, such as to a family member who urgently needs it, but not for use with strangers.  That’s because wiring money is like sending cash; once it is sent, you can’t stop the transfer and get your money back. This makes Western Union quite appealing to scammers who want to take your money and remain anonymous.

The phone call you received may well have been an “Advance-Fee Loan Scam”.   It is likely that after discussing your supposed loan with the “loan manager”, he or she would ask you to pay some kind of up-front fee through Western Union. Remember that if you have to wire money in order to receive a loan or credit card, it’s a scam. 

Some tips you can use to avoid scams like this:

•    Only send money to people you personally know and trust;
•    Never provide your banking information to unknown individuals or businesses‎;
•    Never send money in advance to obtain a loan or credit card

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