Just out of the hospital, with medical bills to pay and a Kettle Falls gift shop in need of inventory, RoseMarie McKee turned to the Internet for $5,000 that would help get her and the Silver Rose back on their feet.
McKee said she thought a loan negotiated with Fairway Lending Group was the answer. It wasn’t.
Like dozens of other Fairway clients, the Colville resident has learned that a slick Web site and professional telephone help do not a lender make.
The lesson cost her $900.
Steve Bernas, president of the Better Business Bureau for Chicago and Northern Illinois, said hundreds of inquiries and complaints about Fairway are pouring in. On Monday alone, he heard from six more victims of the company allegedly based in nearby Mount Prospect, Ill. A check by police, who are also receiving complaints, found no such company at the address given, he said.
Bernas said some of the more than two dozen victims have lost more than $5,000.
McKee said she saw the red flags: a demand for cash up front as “collateral” that would cover her first four monthly loan payments; an Alberta, Canada, address where she was supposed to wire the money; and an individual named Heidi Carling funding the loan.
“That was like a fire bell and whistle but I didn’t want to hear it,” McKee said Friday. “I was kind of desperate for the money.”
A bank loan was out of the question, she said. Her credit report was pockmarked with old loan problems.
“I didn’t even bother going to a bank,” McKee said.
A Fairway representative, Mark Spears, called her the day after she posted a message that she was seeking a loan. The process moved quickly.
According to a complaint McKee filed with the Spokane office of the Better Business Bureau, she wired her $900 Friday, Jan. 25. She had already provided Spears with a signed contract and all her personal financial information, including bank account numbers and Social Security number. Spears told her the loan amount would be directly deposited in her account by midnight.
The next afternoon she got a call from a service manager who said there was a problem with the account. An additional $900 in collateral was required. McKee refused, and demanded her $900 be returned. The manager said a refund would take four to six weeks.
McKee said she called the BBB and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She called Spears, who soon started yelling at her.
“He hung up on me,” she said. “I knew right at that point.”
The realization her money was gone prompted chest pains so severe her husband considered taking her to the hospital, McKee said. She spent two days in bed crying.
She said the friends from whom she borrowed some of the “collateral” have been understanding. She has reopened her store, but without the new inventory she had hoped to buy with the $5,000.
Bernas said the Web host for www.fairwaylending.org Monday took down the site, which was registered in Hong Kong.
He said the BBB and authorities do not know where the bogus Fairway Lending Group or its agents are. All the wired funds went to Canada – “a sure sign of trouble” – and the BBB is working with Canadian authorities, he said.
Bernas noted that several legitimate lenders also have the name Fairway Lending and that taking the name of a reputable business is just one way scam artists try to conceal themselves.
He added that consumers could avoid losses by calling the BBB first, but sometimes they do not heed the warnings.
“Even after we tell them it’s a scam, they ask ‘Are you sure?’ ” he said.
McKee, too late, is sure. She wants others not to make the same mistake she did.
“Whatever I can do to stop these people would be great,” she says.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.