NEWS

Richard K. Lodge: If it sounds too good to be true ...

Richard K. Lodge

Have you been having trouble paying the bills lately? Are you stressed out when you try to balance your checkbook? Worried that you can't pay the mortgage and heating bill next month?

I can help. Just e-mail to me your Social Security number, date of birth, the name of your bank and your bank account number. Within 48 hours, I will deposit more money into your bank account than you could possibly need, then send you the paperwork, explaining the easy repayment terms.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? You work with me and I can help you get out of debt.

Anyone who could get suckered into believing a sales pitch like that is probably gullible, desperate or both. But our story this week about an investigation of a loan scam using a business address in Sudbury shows how crafty some criminals are in finding their prey.

Sudbury police received about 10 complaints from people across the country who said a "company" named Greenpark Lending tricked them into sending thousands of dollars in advance; "good faith" payments with the promise the individuals would, in turn, receive considerably more money in loans.

Whether it was "Julia" or "Bruno" or someone else on the other end of the telephone line, the individuals who got taken by the promise of a loan of as much as $5,000 fell for a scam that now has the attention of police in Canada - where the scammers are thought to be based - the FBI, Massachusetts attorney general's office and the Sudbury Police Department.

This operation was a fraud, and the people behind it bilked who knows how many individuals before disappearing. It might be coincidence or just a bit of twisted humor on the part of the scammers that they used 142 North Road Sudbury, as their "address." That office building houses the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab, among other things.

How many times do people have to hear warnings from police and the Better Business Bureau before they understand how to avoid getting ripped off?

Paula Fleming, vice president of communication and marketing for the Better Business Bureau in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island, was interviewed this week and, as she has done before, urged consumers to do their homework before committing to an offer that sounds too good to be true.

She said a search of a company on the bureau's Web site - www.bbb.org - can help in researching a business with which you're unfamiliar. She also said consumers can protect themselves by not inputting any personal data into e-mails, even if the messages appear legitimate.

Googling Greenpark Lending brings up numerous postings from people either trying to find out more about the "company" or folks trying to connect with others who already have fallen for the scam.

A poster on complaintsboard.com described his experience with the bogus Greenpark Lending: "This company is a total scam and they prey on those who are financially challenged and strapped for cash. In any normal circumstances one would question it, but when you are financially strapped and you're desperate, you're not thinking straight."

After describing in great detail his dealings with - and loss of money to - this fake loan company, the poster wrote, "I've filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office and the Better Business Bureau."

Another reported victim was detailed on the KDLT-TV news site, based in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The station reported that AJ Towne, owner of a Vermillion, S.D., computer business, went online looking for a loan "when he was contacted by a company named Greenpark Lending Firm. The company said it would give him a loan after making several payments up front to show 'good faith.' But the loan never came."

Towne contacted police in Sudbury, where Greenpark Lending was supposedly located, and police told him they knew about the scam and had heard from other victims.

KDLT said Towne lost more than $2,500 in the scam. Towne said, "The Internet is out there for the good for research and stuff too in one way, but in another way it's out there for the bad, and I happened to fall into one of those bad situations."

The lesson is pretty simple: Do your homework. Seek information about a business you're not familiar with before you do business. Consult the Better Business Bureau. And if you do this and still fall victim, contact police or the state attorney general's office.

Richard Lodge is editor of the Daily News and writes a column on Fridays. His e-mail is rlodge@cnc.com.