Volatile TikTok ads push high-yield payday loans
A group of mysterious TikTok advertisers are using sketchy tactics to push massive loans that experts say could violate deceptive advertising laws, The Post has learned.
Some of the ads tease “near-instant” five-figure deposits despite bad credit, while others seem to imply they’re part of government “inflationary programs” and use the logos of news organizations like CNN.
Cash-strapped borrowers who click links in many of the ads are asked for sensitive personal information, including their social security and bank account numbers.
“At best, these videos are designed to get you to give up information you shouldn’t, which will lead to more inquiries,” John Breyault, vice president of advocacy for the National Consumer League, told The Post. “At worst, this is an outright scam designed to take either your money or your information for fraudulent purposes.”
A typical TikTok credit ad begins with a shot of the words “US Government Inflation Program 2022” over a video of the US Capitol.
“US government’s inflation program helps Americans get credit, even with bad credit,” says a voiceover in somewhat broken English. “You can get up to $50,000 just by filling out a simple form.”
The ad then switches to a shot from the perspective of a person holding stacks of hundred dollar bills in a car.
“I use my money to pay my bills, get some gas for the rest of the year, and cover my medical needs,” says the voiceover. “Click the link below, fill out the form in just 60 seconds and see how much you can get. Thank me later.”
People who click on the link that leads to a website called “Lavish Finances” are asked to fill out forms with personal information, including bank account information, social security numbers and addresses.
Lavish Finances says it then forwards applicants’ information to lenders, who can respond with loan offers at annual interest rates of up to 35.99% over terms of up to four years. If someone were to borrow under the site’s maximum terms — $50,000 repaid over four years at 35.99% APR — the user would end up with more than $137,000 on the hook.
Breyald said the loans advertised by Lavish Finances and similar sites are “awful” to the vast majority of consumers.
“35.99% APR is higher than some of the highest credit card loans out there,” he said.
Both Breyault and Bartlett Naylor, a fiscal advocate at consumer rights group Public Citizen, said the ads risk violating the Federal Trade Commission’s rules on misleading advertising.
“If it’s implied that it’s a government program and you click on it and it’s not a government program, my advice is: you’re getting scammed,” Naylor said, advising people to “stay away,” prompting TikTok to pursue a harder line against personal credit ads.
After The Post solicited TikTok to comment on ads by Lavish Finances and other companies, they were removed from the social media site for violating their advertising policies, which prohibit “misleading, inauthentic, and misleading conduct.”
“Advertisers and ad content must follow our Community Guidelines, Advertising Policies and Terms of Service, and content violating these policies will be removed,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Post.
When The Post emailed the only available email address on the Lavish Finances website for comment, the messages came back. A phone number listed on the website went straight to a busy voicemail box. The website Lavish Finances lists an address for a building in Dover, Delaware that sells “virtual office services” for $50 a month.
The FTC said it does not comment “whether it is investigating any particular company, person, or business practice.” The agency did not announce any action against any of the sites in this article, but it did does frequently Sue Companies, the agency says, are falsely claiming affiliation with the US government.
Lavish Finances is far from the only advertiser using dubious techniques on TikTok. An ad linking to a website called PersonalLoanPro shows what appears to be a fake CNN segment. It flashes “BREAKING NEWS” that “AMERICANS CAN NOW CLAIM UP TO $50,000.”
“They’re showing it again,” says a man while pointing to a television showing the clipping. “That’s how I got my money”
The camera then turns to the man’s face as he says, “Last week a new benefit was released allowing Americans to claim up to $50,000. You don’t need any credit history at all – no bank requirements. I did it myself and got $8,000 in two days.”
A similar Facebook version of the video was beaten with a “misinformation” warning in May — but it was still being promoted without disclosure on TikTok in mid-June.
Other ads linking to PersonalLoanPro feature various narrators raving about receiving cash through the site. In one, the text “I got $45,000 almost IMMEDIATELY” appears on the screen as a narrator walks up to a man and says, “Babe, where did you get all that money from?”
The man shows an online banking account on his phone and says: “This is really crazy. I just received a $45,000 loan and it’s already in our bank account.”
In another ad, a male narrator, seated in a car, holds up wads of hundred-dollar bills and gushes that a loan is the “last-minute miracle I desperately needed.”
Like Lavish Finances, PersonalLoanPro asks people to enter sensitive information, including their social security numbers. It says it will then refer them to lenders who can offer them loans at interest rates of up to 35.99% APR for terms of up to 15 years.
“Basically they’re like, ‘Nobody else knows about this, I wish I knew sooner’ — and they show you tons of cash,” Breyault said. “It’s ridiculous, but it’s a common tactic.”
PersonalLoanPro’s website says it’s owned by a Durango, Colorado-based company called On The Barrelhead. Email inquiries sent to both PersonalLoanPro and On The Barrelhead went unanswered, while a call to a phone number from On The Barrelhead’s website went straight to voicemail.