I have been applying online for a short-term loan. I was called today by someone who said I had been approved for a $5,000 loan. They said it would be for 28 months and my monthly payment would be $202. I was OK with that until they asked to charge my bank account $200, saying that it was for an application and processing fee.

They claimed that as soon as I paid the $200, the loan money would be in my bank account along with the $200 for the application. That threw up a red flag in my eyes because it didn't make any sense.

Is this a scam?


- J.M., Prattville, Ala.


Dear J.M.:

Yes, it’s a scam. You were smart to recognize that and not send any money to these people.

Legitimate lenders don’t ask customers to pay an up-front fee to get their money – that’s called an advance-fee loan scheme, and the Federal Trade Commission says it’s your cue to walk away. Normally, if there is a fee for processing a loan, it will be taken from the money that is lent – not put up in advance by you, the borrower. With this type of scheme, the “lender” just keeps the money and moves on to his next victim.

Some of these cons originate overseas, with the perpetrators using “spoofed” phone numbers that make it appear like they’re calling from the United States.

Here are some more warning signs:

- The supposed lender doesn’t care about your credit history.

- The lender guarantees a loan, no matter what.

- The lender claims that you’ve been approved, but soon starts demanding upfront fees for vague reasons like “insurance,” “processing” or “paperwork.”

If you’ve already given these people any of your personal financial information, ask your bank about changing your account numbers, just to stay safe. You can also go to IdentityTheft.gov for advice on what to do if you’ve already divulged other personal info, such as your Social Security number.

Your letter reminds us all that a consumer’s intuition – your ability to spot a red flag – is a valuable thing. Listen to your gut!

- The ABC News Fixer

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Stephanie Zimmermann

Most people groan at the thought of spending hours on the phone with a customer service call center, but Stephanie Zimmermann relishes the chance to slice through red tape.

Before joining ABC News, Stephanie untangled consumer problems at the Chicago Sun-Times, where her popular column recovered more than $1.4 million in refunds, credits, and merchandise for consumers in the Windy City.

Stephanie, who lives in Chicago, has also worked at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and has bachelor's and master's degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. But most of all, Stephanie is a consumer who hates to see anyone else get ripped off.