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Consumer Watch: New Breed of Payday Lender Emerges with So-Called Optional Fee

Personal Finance

 

In a new twist, one amorphous payday loan network known as FastLoan4Me has found another way to grab money off of consumers: Undisclosed “optional” fees that are tacked on to “free” applications. FastLoan4Me.com and its related sites are “free” unless you sign up for their optional $30 assistance program. But, according to their terms and conditions:

By initialing your acceptance of the Terms and Conditions of this website and selecting the Submit button, you are agreeing to the Fastloan4me.com, Funding Assistance Program enrollment fee of $30.00 (Thirty Dollars and Zero Cents), which will be withdrawn from your bank account via electronic check

This $30 fee is not disclosed anywhere on the application page – you have to dig through the terms and conditions to find it. Because the fee is withdrawn from the customer’s bank account, it’s caused numerous people to overdraw and face additional $25-$35 fees from their banks.

FastLoan4Me and its affiliates have racked up 540 complaints to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and nearly 1,500 entires on Scambook.com.

The payday lending industry has already come under scrutiny for providing desperate customers with short-term, high-interest and often renewed loans; this loan network borders on deceptive marketing. And it only gets worse:

Impossible to reach

Once you input your information into FastLoan4Me’s system, they can contact you into perpetuity:

You agree that we may contact you by telephone, via live operator or recorded announcement, or electronic internet communication once you have enrolled in the Fastloan4me.com program notwithstanding your listing on any Do Not Call or Do Not Market list. You may call our customer service representatives at any time to remove your authorization to receive prerecorded announcements.

Note that the site does give consumers a way to opt out of their email and phone communication: call or email their support team. However, there’s only one problem – the email does not work. An inquiry sent to support@fastloan4me.com (the only email listed) bounced back; calls to their customer service number went straight to voicemail.

According to the BBB, a letter sent in February 2013 to FastLoan4Me’s address – a PO box in Nevada – was returned marked “refused.”

Not the only suspicious site out there

FastLoan4Me is not the only website with the practice of charging an optional $30 fee; its sister websites include FastLoanFast and Loan4UToday. Trying to find the actual owner of these sites is a nightmare: all three terms and conditions mention Vantage Funding, which as far as we can tell has no website or publicly available information.

Calling the customer support number – it’s the same for all three sites – yields no more information. The scripted response reads like this:

Thank you for calling the loan verification department. We are your one stop shop for low cost lending. To verify your loan, please visit the web address that you applied with. We also offer email support; the address is located on the website.

Nowhere in this message is the actual name of the company, website or support email mentioned.

What should consumers look for?

Consumers should avoid FastLoans4Me and its sister websites, but as we’ve seen, it’s hard to go by name alone. Thankfully, there are two easy ways to identify this shady network:

  • A customer support number of 775-200-1525 – it’s shared between all three sites
  • Websites that look like the photo above.

However, this will only help protect against this specific lending network. Payday lending has its share of shady characters; whomever you borrow from, follow these steps to stay safe:

  • Search the Better Business Bureau, Ripoff Report and similar complaint forums to see if people have been mistreated.
  • Avoid any site that says you’ll get a loan without a Social Security Number or other form of identification.
  • Avoid any site that guarantees you a loan no matter what.

Remember that payday loans are a very expensive form of credit. If you’re short money now, you’ll probably be short two weeks from now when the loan comes due. Then you’ll have to pay any loan fees again, as well as interest. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has some chilling statistics about short-term loans; keep these numbers in mind before you apply.