Multiple Tampa Bay residents say they owe thousands after crooks applied for small business loans in their name

Better Call Behnken

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

Better Call Behnken first reported this uptick in loan fraud weeks ago. Since then, we have 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 COVID-19 economic relief.

This is part of billions of dollars that Congress set aside for the Small Business Administration to loan to businesses that need help staying afloat amid the pandemic.

Teacher Stacey Hawkins recently learned she has one of these loans, called an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, in her name.

“I thought it was a scam,” she said.

She received a letter in the mail last week from the SBA about her loan. Payments are due in August 2021, but she was told if she did not start making payments now, interest would accrue.

That same day, Hawkins said she turned on News Channel 8 to see a Better Call Benhnken story about this type of fraud. She has filed reports with local law-enforcement and the federal Office of Inspector General.

“What makes me even angrier is knowing that there are good people that needed that,” Hawkins said. “There’s a reason that our government provided that to the small business administration and they missed managed that money. They did not follow due process.”

The Office Of Inspector General issued an alert in July, posted online, flagging fraud and warning SBA they had been flooded with complaints about fraudulent disaster relief loans.

Many of the fraud victims contacting Better Call Behnken say their loans were approved after that alert was issued and they question why SBA didn’t do more to protect their identity and make sure this money ended up in the hands of those who need it.

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

He said he has spent days trying to figure out how to clear up his credit and erase this loan from his record.

“I’ve been trying to build my credit slowly as a college student, paying gas on my credit card so I can keep it up so that when I need to take out a loan, I could, and I don’t want this to affect my credit or my livelihood in the future,” Leon said.

A local doctor says she discovered the crook claimed to own a trucking business and named it after her last name. She was shocked that the SBA did not verify that the company exists before issuing the nearly $10,000 loan.

Better Call Behnken contacted several local members of Congress to ask for help getting letters for SBA fraud victims so that they have something to show if they are ever questioned about this loan.

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

You may report fraud, waste, mismanagement, or misconduct involving SBA programs or employees either online or by calling the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at 800-767-0385. You can find out more information on the Inspector General website.

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