Frustrated COVID-19 Loan Fraud Victims ‘Finally’ Get Federal Government Help
LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Ken Thompson owns a Lakeland land surveying business, but documents relating to the government disaster loan he never requested have been mailed to his home.
“I was suspicious,” Thompson said.
Getting some sort of confirmation from the Small Business Administration (SBA) that the $ 7,500 disaster loan would not hurt her credit proved difficult.
“I received the invoice in December,” said Thompson. “But I couldn’t convince anyone to answer on what I should do.”
Thompson is one of dozens of Tampa Bay area residents whose personal information was used to obtain Economic Disaster Loans (EIDL) under a nationwide program that the SBA Inspector General said could involve billions in fraud.
An OIG report expressed concern over more than $ 78 billion in loans from the $ 190 billion program.
A delinquency of $ 7,500 could be enough to skew anyone’s debt-to-income ratio, but an 8 On Your Side investigation found this amount to be small compared to other local cases that include fraudulent loans of up to 150,000. $.
As the victims tried to disentangle the loans from their credit history, Eight on Your Side sent their names and addresses to Representative Gus Bilirakis and a number of SBA employees.
About a week later, several said they were “finally” contacted by Bilirakis and the SBA.
“Before that, the attitude was, ‘Leave a message. We will get back to you. But they don’t answer you, ”Thompson said. “It looked like you were doing something, I couldn’t do it. I’m optimistic, at least they’re going to look into it. Finally, they came back to me.
The son of South Tampa retiree William Dreyer – about to secure a $ 10,000 loan for a fake farm supposed to grow on his 10,000 square foot lot – is also optimistic he can help his father pay off the loan.
But Rick Dreyer, an out-of-state doctor, said his father’s case had complications.
“We have a lot of paperwork to do here. He’s 85 years old, without the Internet, ”Dreyer said. “And there are privacy issues that don’t allow me to do that. I have to help him out of this mess.
This week, the House Small Business Committee approved $ 50 billion in pandemic emergency assistance for small businesses, and Bilirakis said several members of Congress were pressuring the SBA to tighten its process. fraud prevention.
“We don’t want to slow down the process for legitimate businesses that need help,” Bilirakis said. “There is going to be a law. And we want to make sure it’s a priority. Some people make mistakes, but what is happening here is unacceptable.
Thompson put it another way.
“If I ran this business like the government runs Washington, I would go bankrupt,” Thompson said.
One unknown is how badly the fraud hit local residents.
8 On Your Side pulled all Florida-based loans from an SBA spreadsheet of over three million loans across the country.
After isolating the Tampa-based transactions from the list, another research found dozens of farm loans. Several of these companies were not registered with the Florida Corporate Division, and further research and emails from other victims pushed the total of suspected frauds to over a million in Tampa alone.
The SBA has not commented on the overall potential total at Tampa Bay.