by Rene Tankersley, feature editor
They are a new breed of loan sharks and they are helping themselves to thousands of dollars from owner-operators seeking easy money through alternative financing or special lease programs. In reality, these advance-fee finance companies are the ones getting the easy money.
OOIDA Business Services department recently received complaints from owner-operators who reportedly lost money to Growth 1 Funding Corporation in Santa Ana, CA, for promised equipment leasing and financing services. On the surface, Growth 1 looks legitimate with its professional-looking web site, but the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of the Southland in Colton, CA, rates Growth 1 as having an “unsatisfactory business performance record.”
The BBB report on the company further states: “Complaints contain a pattern of allegations that the company made promises of obtaining financing with specific terms. When the company failed to obtain the financing at rates originally quoted or provide promised terms, customers requested refunds of the deposit amounts. The company responded by generally denying requests, referring to the terms and conditions of the commitment fee, or that a portion of the deposit amount was kept due to expenses incurred by the company attempting to obtain the financing.”
OOIDA members Johnnie Banner, Lawrence McCafferty and Steven Long all reported similar experiences with Growth 1.
An unsuspecting equipment dealer in Tampa, FL, referred Banner, of Auburndale, FL, to Growth 1 in July 2001 to obtain financing for a 2000 Kenworth W-900L (total cost $85,547.99) to be purchased from the dealer. Per written instructions by Growth 1, Banner signed a preliminary lease agreement for the promised financing and paid documentation fees and two lease payments totaling $5,510.77. After wire transferring the money from Banner’s checking account, Growth 1 did not provide the promised financing. Banner, his attorney and the equipment dealer have all contacted Growth 1 several times by phone and letters trying to get a refund for Banner. All they received was empty promises of “we will look into it.”
On Nov. 5, Roxanna Munoz, senior underwriter for Growth 1, told Land Line the company owes Banner a refund.
“I did find out that definitely this customer is owed a refund, there is no argument on that,” Munoz said. “Unfortunately, right now we’re just not allowed to cut out any checks at this moment due to a freeze that has been put in our company with our account due to an internal bank auditing that’s going on. We’re just looking at about another couple of days from now, it could be any day now that I have word that we have clearance and we can go ahead and start the accounting department back up to go ahead and do what they’ve got to do. I have your information here as to give you a concrete date of when Mr. Johnnie Banner should be getting his check.”
McCafferty of Fernley, NV, says he’s heard this and several other promises from Munoz regarding the $1,653.73 he gave the company in June for an equipment lease that never materialized. His introduction to Growth 1 also came through a nearby unsuspecting truck dealer.
Long, of Palm Bay, FL, had a similar experience in July when he tried to purchase a drop trailer from a Kansas City, MO, equipment dealer, who referred him to Growth 1. Like the others, he signed a preliminary lease agreement and paid $200 in documentation fees and two lease payments of $610 each, totaling $1,420. As with Banner and McCafferty, the lease went nowhere.
Growth 1 has refunded $1,000 to Long, who still believes the company owes him $420 plus the other related expenses. Growth 1 isn’t the only finance company causing problems for OOIDA members. Two other California companies – Funder Direct and Commercial Money Center Inc. – have been the subjects of complaints by OOIDA members Lonnie Byers of Ozark, AR, and Darren Purrier of Las Vegas. Byers gave Funder Direct out of San Diego, $1,353.32 in May to lease a trailer that never was delivered.
Darren Purrier purchased a new truck through a dealer on Commercial Money Center’s lease program. Because he knew he had credit problems, Purrier says he expected the high payments and a higher interest rate, but not 48.672 percent interest. Because the interest rate was never stated in the lease agreement, Purrier did not realize how much interest he was paying until his accountant reviewed his records at tax time. He’s talked to a couple of people about refinancing the truck at a lower interest rate, but the lease agreement requires any early pay-off to include all the interest for the entire lease.
The Federal Trade Commission offers a few tips to avoid getting scammed by advance-fee loan companies:
- Legitimate lenders never “guarantee” or say you are likely to get a loan or a credit card before you apply, especially if you have bad credit, no credit or a bankruptcy.
- Legitimate lenders never ask you to pay for processing your application.
- Never give your credit card account number, bank account information or Social Security number over the telephone or Internet unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is needed.
- If you don’t have the offer in hand – or confirmed in writing – and you’re asked to pay, don’t do it. It’s fraud and it’s against the law.
Funder Direct and Commercial Money Center have something in common. Although Funder Direct is using an address in San Diego, the California Secretary of State’s corporation filings list the company address as 221 West Crest in Escondido, CA, the same address used by Commercial Money Center.
If you have been victimized by an advance-fee loan company, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, as well as the attorney generals and Better Business Bureau in your state and the state where the business is located.
To file a complaint with the FTC, call the Consumer Response Center toll free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); by mail at Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC, 20580, or though the Internet using the online complaint form at www.ftc.gov. Although these agencies may not resolve individual problems for consumers, they can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations. They can’t help if you don’t report it.
If you have been the victim of one of these California companies, you may file complaints with the California Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit by calling the Consumer Complaint Hotline at 1-800-952-5225, or writing the California Department of Justice, Public Inquiry Unit, PO Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.