TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Several Tampa Bay residents had no idea their personal information was used in a COVID-19 disaster loan scheme while others know it, but cannot clear their names.
A Small Business Administration (SBA) inspector general investigation concluded relaxed loan procedures led to “billions of dollars in potentially fraudulent loans,” and an examination by 8 On Your Side discovered dozens of cases in Tampa alone involving phony farms.
Mike and Darlene Pierson received a mailed “reminder” in October indicating Darlene’s $23,000 loan will be due in August. But the San Antonio retirees do not own a business and never applied for a loan.
She had been the victim of identity theft in the past, so she knew the drill.
“Here we go again,” she said.
The Piersons say they have tried several times on the phone, through the SBA’s website and even with a report to the Pasco County Sheriff’s office, but without success.
“It’s troublesome,” Mike Pierson said. “I think there’s enough documentation that we know it’s a fraud. But we cannot get any information. No confirmation about anything.”
8 On Your Side alerted several residents in person, over the phone and with letters that their names and addresses were used for apparently bad loans to farms that do not exist. Many have now started the process to clear up their problems.
The Piersons are among several others who received letters about loans they didn’t apply for, but knowing about the issue has not given them much of a head start.
According to an SBA invoice, Ken Thompson, of Lakeland, is on the hook for a $7,500 disaster loan. He said he has initiated a complaint “three separate times.”
“But I can’t get anyone to talk to me about this issue,” Thompson said. “I’ve never applied for a business loan through SBA and have never fallen victim to any disaster.”
The Bonnett family, of Plant City, received a letter last fall informing them a $50,000 loan was taken out in the name of their business Bonnett’s Stone and Stucco. But, they never applied for the loan.
They filed a police report and reached out to the inspector general, adding they “could not get through.”
“In my opinion,” Cindy Bonnett said. “Since it was their doing, they should be investigating and we should not have to be put through this.”
SBA South Florida District Director Victoria Guerrero compares the government loan problems with private sector data breaches.
“In any case of identity theft or fraud, it’s never the consumer’s fault, right?” Guerrero said. “But it’s still a responsibility of their’s to make notice of this and report it to the proper channels.”
The Piersons would like more help from the SBA and at least communication beyond letters stating they need to start paying the loan back.
“They don’t seem to be worried with how we feel,” Mike Pierson said. “That’s their attitude. ‘Well, we’ll eventually clean it up.’ Yeah, but what if it takes a year?”
The SBA has yet to respond to inquiries about what taxpayers should do if they cannot get confirmation about their names being cleared from the fraudulent loans.