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Consumer Alert

Site offering loans for a fee raises several red flags

By Mitch Lipka
Globe Correspondent / January 9, 2011

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There’s something funny going on in Grafton.

More likely, there’s something funny going on with someone pretending to be in Grafton. Consumers around the country — none from these parts yet — have been asking about or complaining to the Better Business Bureau of Central New England about a “company’’ calling itself Cobot Capital that has been advertising loans for those with poor credit. The address Cobot Capital uses is a home that’s for sale in Grafton.

Cobot’s website is slick, but is missing any of the identifying details you’ll find on legitimate lending sites, such as corporate officers’ names and company license and registration numbers.

It is also an exact copy of the site used by Suncrest Mutual — identified by the Better Business Bureau in Connecticut as being an advance-fee loan scam, in which families and small businesses are promised loans if they first pay substantial fees. After the fees are paid, the loans never materialize. The victims are typically consumers with bad credit who would have difficulty getting loans from legitimate lenders.

An e-mail to Cobot, which is not registered to do business in Massachusetts, went unanswered. Someone who answered the phone number listed on the Cobot website hung up immediately. Suncrest’s phone number has been disconnected.

Nancy Cahalen, president of the Worcester-based Better Business Bureau of Central New England, said Cobot’s solicitations appear to be another attempt to prey on folks who are struggling.

“As difficult economic conditions persist, struggling families and small-business owners continue to fall victim to advance-fee loan fraud,’’ Cahalen said. “Scammers . . . take advantage of technology and build very professional looking websites.’’

These operations typically target people through e-mail or on online classified advertising sites.

The Better Business Bureau advises to never wire money on the promise of later getting something in return. The organization also recommends that consumers considering loans do extensive homework to be sure they’re dealing with legitimate operations.

When there’s a website involved, you should also search the Whois database of Internet domains, which will show you the registration record of the site. Cobot’s site was registered on Dec. 16 with all identifying information obscured. That’s two red flags: a new site to which no one wants to attach their name.

Mitch Lipka is the Consumer Ally for AOLs WalletPop.com and lives in Worcester. He can be reached at ConsumerNews@Aol.com