Several Tampa Bay residents say they owe thousands after crooks sought small business loans on their behalf

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TAMPA, Florida (WFLA) – A growing number of people in Tampa Bay have discovered that crooks are using their name to take out SBA loans.

Better Call Behnken first reported this spike in loan fraud weeks ago. We have since heard from doctors, teachers, retirees, and a college student. None of them have ever owned a business, and all of them owe between $ 10,000 and $ 150,000 in SBA loans tied to economic assistance for COVID-19.

This is part of billions of dollars that Congress has given to the Small Business Administration to loan businesses in need of help to stay afloat amid the pandemic.

Teacher Stacey Hawkins recently learned that she has one of these loans, called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, on her behalf.

“I thought it was a scam,” she said.

Last week she received a letter in the mail from the SBA about her loan. Payments are due in August 2021, but she was told that if she didn’t start paying now, interest would accrue.

On the same day, Hawkins said she tuned in to News Channel 8 to see a story from Better Call Benhnken about this type of scam. She has filed reports with local law enforcement agencies and the Federal Inspectorate General.

“What makes me angry is knowing that there are good people out there who need this,” said Hawkins. “There is a reason our government made this available to the Small Business Administration and they failed to manage that money. You did not follow due process. “

The Office of Inspector General issued a warning posted online in July to report fraud and warn the SBA that it had been inundated with complaints of fraudulent disaster relief loans.

Many of the fraud victims who contact Better Call Behnken say their loans were approved after receiving this warning, and they wonder why SBA has not done more to protect their identities and ensure that this money ends up in the hands of those who need it.

Paul Leon, a Bay Area student at the University of Florida, recently received a letter in which he owed nearly $ 10,000. He said he was shocked that the government would approve a business loan on his behalf.

He said he spent days figuring out how to clean up his loan and remove that loan from his file.

“I tried to slowly build my credit as a college student by paying for gas on my credit card so I could keep it up, so I could when I needed to take out a loan, and I don’t want this to happen affect my creditworthiness or future livelihood, ”said Leon.

A local doctor says she discovered the crook who claimed to own a trucking business and named her after her last name. She was shocked that the SBA didn’t verify the company existed before making the nearly $ 10,000 loan.

Better Call Behnken reached out to several local Congressmen to seek help in obtaining letters for victims of SBA fraud so that they can show something in case they are ever questioned about the loan.

The Inspector General’s office is investigating this type of fraud and if you find you are a victim you should file a complaint with the office so that you can be included in the investigation.

You can report fraud, waste, mismanagement, or misconduct by SBA programs or employees either online or by calling the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at 800-767-0385. More information can be found on the General Inspector Website.

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