The Oregon Division of Financial Regulation is warning consumers about fraudulent activity from an alleged Internet-based mortgage lending and consumer finance company that is committing an advance fee scam, as well as impersonating a legitimate company.
The division has received five complaints from victims of the advance fee scam. Four of the five complaints were filed in the past year. The scammers have co-opted the name and address for a real Portland-based company named Canyon Investments. The real Canyon Investments has nothing to do with the lending scam.
The fraudsters, whose identities the division has not been able to determine, have set up an imposter website to make it look like the real Canyon Investments. They use Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), phone apps, spoof emails, and stock photos to give the appearance of a legitimate company offering funding for real estate purchases and investments. The real Canyon Investments does not have a website and does not offer loans to consumers.
As part of the fraud, the scammer convinces its victims they have been approved for a loan, but, in order to receive the loan funds, the victims must pay various upfront fees. Those fees are not sent directly to the scammer or the purported company, but rather to accounts in the names of people who serve as intermediaries in the scam. These intermediaries, or money mules (people who transfer or move illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else), then forward most of the funds on to the scammers after keeping 5 percent to 10 percent as their fee. The scammers also occasionally require the victims to send cryptocurrency, typically Bitcoin, as payments of these alleged fees.
“Information provided by victims of the scam indicated that payment of the fees leads only to requests for more money in order to pay a continuous list of never-ending fees,” said TK Keen, administrator for the division, which is part of the Department of Consumer and Business Services. “In reality, there is no loan, and once a victim discovers this hard truth and stops paying the fees, the scammers stop all communication.”
The investigation has also found that the money mules who received and transferred the funds from the victims are often victims themselves. In the most recent complaint, the money mule was the victim of an online romance scam. He believed he was in a relationship with a woman who asked him to receive and transfer funds for a business deal she was working.
“He did receive some commission from this transfer, but it was small and it seems that he was not aware that he was participating in this fraudulent, criminal activity,” Keen said. “Do not transfer money for people you do not know to other people you do not know.”
State and federal laws require that certain consumer finance lenders and all mortgage brokers, mortgage lenders, and mortgage loan originators be licensed. The division recommends that people check into any consumer finance or mortgage company before signing any documents or sending money.
People can verify a company’s license or registration by going to the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS) database https://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org. Also, it is best to contact that company directly to confirm payment instructions before sending funds to any intermediary claiming to receive funds on its behalf.
“It is important for consumers to not work with a lender until they have confirmed it is a legitimate, licensed company.” Keen said. “The best way to protect against being defrauded is to verify the lending company is legally licensed to engage in the mortgage lending or consumer finance business.”
Consumers can also contact the division’s advocates at 888-877-4894 (toll-free) to ask questions, file complaints, or check the license of a broker, lender, or loan originator.