THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- $1,700 lost: Online 'loan' threatens Virginia's good name

The Hook doesn't typically get consumer complaints from out of town, but a few weeks ago an email from Carly Green of St. Joseph, Missouri, found its way through the the electronic warrens to my inbox.

Green believes she's a victim of an online scam that used a Charlottesville address in order to appear legit.

It all started when Green, a mother of two, found herself into a hole by using her credit cards to pay unexpected medical bills and was hoping to consolidate her high-cost debt with a better loan. Her bank turned her down, so going online to apply for credit was her last shot.

"I was set on taking care of my kids," says Green. "I wasn't thinking clearly."

She reached out to the Hook because the company that took her money and has yet to provide her with any loan, Oakdale Lending Group, claims it is located in Charlottesville. It even provides a genuine address: One Morton Drive, which is the multi-story office building next to the Bodo's on Route 29.

Green says Oakdale had promised to lend her $12,500. The company, however, required Green to post a cash security deposit of nearly $1,700, which she had done as per Oakdale's instructions by sending a MoneyGram to a woman named Patricia Arbor in Toronto, Canada.

Almost as soon as she had sent the MoneyGram, however, Green says she smelled a rat and tried to get her cash back. But it was too late.

And, of course, 30 days later she has yet to see her loan money.

For the past month, Oakdale has either ignored Green's repeated calls or, when they have responded, claimed problems with Green's paperwork had delayed the loan, and the money would be provided within a few days.

Green has now resigned herself to the fact that she has likely been taken for $1,700. If she has, then this is what's called the Advance Loan Fee Fraud, an online scam. 

Whether the operators of Oakdale Lending actually have any connection to Charlottesville is another matter. Oakdale Lending is not a tenant at One Morton Drive, according to the building's management.

And while the company's telephone number is a toll-free (and therefore location-free) 866 number, its fax number has an 804-area code, which is in the Richmond area. Finally, I could find no listing in the Charlottesville phone directory for any of the three names I have been able to associate with the company through documents Green provided to me, although that last fact doesn't prove much one way or the other.

Last, but not least, it does not appear that Oakdale Lending had registered with the State of Virginia, which it would be required to do as a consumer lending company.

If it turns out to be an online scam, this one is pretty sophisticated. In addition to a fancy web site, Oakdale sent Green a fairly elaborate contract to sign. Its telephone number connects to a professional-sounding voice mail system, although over several days of calling, it never actually connected me to a human being.

As the holidays approach, take this as yet another warning about online con artists. As a general rule of thumb, any transaction that requires you to send cash or a money order outside the country warrants a closer look. Websites such as ripoffreport.com (where Green has posted her story) is one resource, although even there I would caution that you take its postings with a grain of salt. The Better Business Bureau, unfortunately, seems to sometimes be behind the curve with respect to specific companies, which can crop up quickly for a few quick hits before they are reported.

The fact that Oakdale Lending purports to be operating from Charlottesville is particularly disturbing. When people do business with a Virginia company, they should be comfortable that it is legitimate. The way to do that is to ensure that criminals who would damage the reputations of both the city and the Commonwealth of Virginia by claiming to do business from here are aggressively investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted.

In these difficult economic times, we can afford no less.

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Got a consumer situation? Call the Hook newsroom at 434-295-8700x405 or e-mail the Tough Customer directly.

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