Local man loses $1,000 in scam

Company claims to offer personal loans in exchange for payment

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2001

A local man is seeking justice from a fraudulent loan company that he says promised him money to pay his bills but took his savings instead.

Peter Tassell, 67, lost nearly $1,000 of his Social Security money trying to get a loan from Signature Financial Services, a loan company based in Toronto, Canada.

The scam works through ads placed in local newspapers offering low interest rate loans, said Special Agent Mary Beth Kepner with the FBI. When consumers call for the loan they are asked for personal information and money up front. The consumer never gets the loan, she said.

Kepner said Signature is part of a ring of fraudulent Canadian telemarketing companies preying on consumers all over the country.

Kepner said Tassell and another Juneau man, whose name was not released, have been scammed by Signature, which advertised in the Juneau Empire for a week in late September.

"It is absolutely a fraudulent company and we have reason to believe they paid for the ad with a stolen credit card," Kepner said. "I've forwarded the complaint to the Canadian authorities but there's not much more we can do after that."

Tassell gave Signature representative Dan Cook his Social Security, bank account and driver's license numbers in order to get a $5,000 loan. In the days that followed, Tassell was told he was approved for the loan but had to wire Signature $572. Tassell said Cook told him it was for an insurance policy Signature took out in case he couldn't make a payment or died. Tassell sent the money but a few days later Cook called asking for $359 more.

"I was starting to get suspicious but I had already committed myself to this," Tassell said. "So I withdrew the last of my money."

Tassell said he never heard from the company again.

Cook said the lender refused Tassell's loan because Tassell "provided the company with a false credit report." He said the lender was a private corporation and would not give its name. He also said the company called Tassell to give him a refund but Tassell was "irate and refused the money."

Tassell said the company never offered to give the money back and he was not asked for a credit report.

Detective Staff Sgt. Barry Elliot of the Ontario Provincial Police said he has nearly a dozen complaints against Signature from all over the world. Elliot said there are 150 fraud telemarketing "rooms" in Toronto alone and as many as 500 throughout Canada. Though Canada has four task forces designed to eliminate these companies, only an average of 40 rooms a year are shut down.

He said once a room is shut down its employees are arrested and jailed. But because of lenient sentencing laws they are back on the streets opening new rooms almost as soon as they are out.

Tassell is considering a civil suit against the company. But it is unlikely he will ever recover his money, said Kepner. Tassell said since losing his savings to Signature he has been struggling to get money to get by.

"They got it all," Tassell said. "I can't pay my rent, I can't buy food. I can't buy gas for my truck. ... I don't know what I'm going to do. I'd like to get my money back."

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