Don't be tricked into applying for an online payday loan

So-called lead generators have sneaky ways of pitching payday loans with annual interest rates as high as 700%.

The envelope looked official enough. "Confidential materials enclosed," it said on the outside. "Unauthorized use strictly prohibited."

Evelyn Potter, 81, could feel something the size of a credit card within. Opening the envelope, she found a plastic card with her name and a "reservation number" printed on it. The card invited her to "get up to $500 in your checking account by tomorrow."

Payday loans: A column in the Oct. 30 Business section about payday lending cited a press release for that was posted on PR Web. The press release was posted by, not parent company Selling Source, as the column indicated. —

Unsure what to make of the offer, the Valley Village resident handed an accompanying letter to her husband, Brent, who'd been a banker for about 30 years.

"Did you know you can use this cash any way you like?" the letter said. "You can. It's your money."

Not really.

What we're actually talking about is a sneaky way of pitching payday loans that can come with annual percentage rates as high as 700%. We're also talking about a cunning ploy to get people to disclose sensitive information that can end up in the hands of marketers.

"I've never seen anything like this before," Brent Potter told me. "They're not even disclosing an interest rate. Someone who needed money could very easily get into a terrible situation."

In the Potters' case, the pitch was from a website called, which makes clear in its fine print that it doesn't actually give loans. What it does is "submit the information you provide to a lender."

Or to whomever is willing to pony up the most money for your Social Security number, bank account number and other personal info.

"They're auctioning off completed loan applications to the highest bidder," said Jean Ann Fox, director of financial services for the Consumer Federation of America. "Some might be real lenders, some might not. It's very dangerous." and similar sites serve as so-called lead generators for payday lenders, which pay about $100 for people's loan applications, regardless of whether they end up making the loan.

Fox said online payday lenders are proliferating as their storefront counterparts shrink in number amid more aggressive regulation by state and federal regulators. Frequently, it's unclear what state online payday lenders are operating in — or even whether they're in the country.

The website offers no clues about its whereabouts. Nor does it provide any way to contact the company other than an email address buried deep in its privacy policy. My email to the address went unanswered.

The site's Internet Protocol address, which marks its real estate in cyberspace, leads to a data center in Las Vegas, where employees told me they'd never heard of They figured the site must be based on one of the various Internet services using the data center's equipment.

A phone number connected to the site's IP address rings the Las Vegas office of a company called the Selling Source, which bills itself as a digital marketing company and operates other lead-generation sites for payday loans.

Charles Goodyear, a spokesman for the Selling Source, acknowledged that "is part of the network." He declined to answer other questions, including why makes it so hard to contact anyone working for the site.

It's not like they're trying to keep a low profile. In August, a poorly worded press release was posted on PR Web touting as a "simple but effective customer-friendly system" to help people receive "instant cash advances."

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