Billings has made a Top 10 list.
But, it's not a good list.
The Better Business Bureau in Spokane, Wash., which serves Montana, has listed an advance fee loan company claiming to be based in Billings as one of the Top 10 scams for 2010.
Montana Mutual, which uses an address at 2825 Third Ave., is calling people to offer advance fee loans they can use for any purpose.
Only there is no such company, no such address, and the company's 406 area code telephone number apparently rings through to a phone booth somewhere.
“It made our Top 10 because we get calls and inquiries about the advance fee scams all year long,” said Zan Deery, who handles communications and investigations for the regional BBB. “They are not only targeting consumers, but they are targeting businesses as well.”
A Pennsylvania resident complained that Montana Mutual has called his cell phone with a loan offer. But when he got the paperwork, he was told to make three upfront “collateral” payments of $181.66 per month, for a total of $544.98, before he could get his loan.
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Upfront payments are illegal in the United States and that's the sure tip-off that this is a scam. People looking for legitimate loans online can run across unscrupulous companies.
“We have a lot of people without jobs and they are seeking money wherever they can find it,” Deery said. “Sadly, the questionable sites tend to be high on the search engines and social media pages.”
The Montana Department of Financial Institutions found that Montana Mutual's purported telephone number was “spoofed” or phony and that the company isn't registered to offer loans in Montana.
Attempts to contact Lisa McBride, listed as a senior loan consultant at Montana Mutual, were unsuccessful. An operator, who insisted the company was based in Billings, said McBride would call back.
If you're a victim of this fraud, immediately report your problem to three agencies: Montana Financial Institutions at 406-248-2742; the FBI's Internet Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov; and the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
Contact Jan Falstad at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1306.