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A group of secretive TikTok advertisers are using sketchy tactics to push massive loans that experts say could run afoul of deceptive advertising laws, The Post has learned.
Some of the ads tease “almost instant” five-figure deposits despite bad credit, while others appear to imply they are part of government “inflation programs” and use the logos of news organizations like CNN.
Cash-strapped borrowers who click on links in many of the ads are asked for sensitive personal information, including their Social Security and bank account numbers.
“At best, these videos are designed to make you give up information that you shouldn’t that will result in more solicitations,” John Breyault, vice president of advocacy group the National Consumer League, told The Post. “At worst, this is a complete scam designed either to take your money or information for fraudulent purposes.”
One typical TikTok lending ad opens with a shot of the words “US Government Inflation Program 2022” over a video of the US Capitol.
“US government inflation program helps Americans get a loan, even with bad credit,” a voiceover says in somewhat broken English. “You can get up to $50,000 just filling simple form.”
The ad then cuts to a shot from the perspective of a person holding stacks of hundred-dollar bills in a car.
“I’m using my money to cover my bills, get some gas for the rest of the year and cover my medical needs,” the voiceover says. “Click the link below, fill the form in as little as 60 seconds and see how much you can get. Thank me later.”
People who click the link, which leads to a site called “Lavish Finances,” are asked to fill out forms with personal information including bank account details, Social Security numbers and addresses.
Lavish Finances says that it then forwards applicants’ information to lenders, who can respond with loan offers with annual interest rates of up to 35.99% over terms of up to four years. If someone were to take out a loan under the sites’ maximum terms — $50,000 paid back at 35.99% APR over four years — the user would ultimately be on the hook for more than $137,000.
Breyald said that the loans being advertised by Lavish Finances and similar sites are “terrible” for the vast majority of consumers.
“35.99% APR is higher than some of the highest credit card loans out there,” he said.
Both Breyault and Bartlett Naylor, a financial policy advocate with consumer rights group Public Citizen, said that the ads risk violating Federal Trade Commission rules on deceptive advertising.
“If it’s implied it’s a government program and you click on and it’s not a government program, my advice is: You’re being scammed,” Naylor said, advising people to “stay away” and calling on TikTok take a harder line against personal loan ads.
After The Post contacted TikTok for comment on ads from Lavish Finances and other companies, the social media site took them down due to violations of its advertising policies, which ban “misleading, inauthentic, and deceptive behaviors.”
“Advertisers and ad content must follow our Community Guidelines, Advertising Guidelines, and Terms of Service, and content that violates these guidelines will be removed,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Post.
When The Post emailed the only available email address on the Lavish Finances website for comment, the messages bounced back. A phone number listed on the site went straight to a voicemail box, which was full. The Lavish Finances site lists an address for a building in Dover, Del., that sells “virtual office services” for $50 per month.
The FTC said that it does not comment on “whether it is investigating any specific company, individual, or business practice.” The agency has not announced actions against any of the sites in this article, but it does frequently sue companies the agency says are falsely claiming to be affiliated with the US government.
Lavish Finances is far from the only advertiser to use dubious techniques on TikTok. An ad that links to a site called PersonalLoanPro shows what appears to be a fake CNN segment. It flashes “BREAKING NEWS” that “AMERICANS CAN NOW CLAIM UP TO $50,000.”
“They’re showing it again,” a man says as he points at a TV showing the segment. “This is how I got my money.”
The camera then flips around to the man’s face as he says, “A new benefit just got released last week, allowing Americans to claim up to $50,000. You don’t need any credit history at all — no bank requirements. I did it myself and I got $8,000 in two days.”
A similar Facebook version of the video was slapped with a “False Information” warning in May — but as of mid-June, it was still being advertised on TikTok without any disclosure.
Other ads that link to PersonalLoanPro feature various narrators gushing about receiving cash through the site. In one, the text “Got $45,000 almost INSTANTLY” appears onscreen as a female narrator walks up to a man and says, “Babe, where’d you get all that money?”
The man shows an online banking account on his phone and says, “It’s actually insane. I just got a $45,000 loan and it’s already in our bank account.”
In another ad, a male narrator sitting in a car holds up wads of hundred dollar bills and gushes about a loan being the “last minute miracle I absolutely needed.”
Like Lavish Finances, PersonalLoanPro asks people to enter sensitive information including their Social Security numbers. It says it will then refer them to lenders who may offer them loans with interest rates of up to 35.99% APR over terms of up to 15 years.
“Basically they say something like, ‘Nobody else knows about this, I wish I’d know about this sooner’ — and they show you stacks of cash,” Breyault said. “it’s laughable on its face, but it’s a common tactic.”
PersonalLoanPro’s site says it is owned by a Durango, Colo.-based company called On The Barrelhead. Email inquiries sent to both PersonalLoanPro and On The Barrelhead went unanswered, while a call to a phone number from On The Barrelhead’s site went straight to voicemail.