Dodgy credit card of the day

By Felix Salmon
September 29, 2010
John Hempton was uncovering a dodgy Chinese stock on the New York Stock Exchange, Tim Chen of Nerdwallet was looking into a much smaller operation, Anacott Financial.

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While John Hempton was uncovering a dodgy Chinese stock on the New York Stock Exchange, Tim Chen of Nerdwallet was looking into a much smaller operation, Anacott Financial.

The company’s home page seems simple and professional enough, although the picture of the credit card doesn’t have a Visa or MasterCard logo on it, which is a bit odd: those logos are slapped on the bottom of the page. After you move on from the home page, things rapidly fall apart, and not just because the company doesn’t seem to be able to spell.

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For one thing, if you simply Google their name, the first result is their website; the next three are message boards complaining about them and asking if they’re a scam. The answer, it seems, is yes: there might be no annual fee, but they ask you for $99 upfront, and they’re likely to simply walk away with that $99 and not even send you a card.

Here’s what Chen found out after spending a bit of time on their website:

  • Their about us page (screenshot) makes a few claims that we are having trouble verifying.
  • Their free credit score check page communicates a few undisputable lies.
    • It asks for personal information, including your social security number, then falsely claims to access TransUnion, Equifax, and Expirian to download your FICO score. The page then prints out a random FICO score.
    • This sequence of events is objectively happening based on our analysis of the source code of their “creditscore.php” page. The javascript cycles through “Accessing Expirian Servers….” type text based on a random timer, then generates a random score.
    • You can trigger this sequence without any input data if you navigate directly there using this link. Alternatively, you can fabricate user data and get the same results.
    • We’ve taken screen shots of the sequence – here is a sample shot where they claim to access Expirian and retrieve a score – which is clearly a lie because I put in Jean Claude Van Damme’s name and a bogus SSN, not to mention that it spits out a different socre every time. Any programmer looking at the source code can show you where the number is randomly generated.
  • Their “Make a Payment” and “Account Login” pages do not appear to function when you enter fake data, are they on the site just for appearances?
    • The “make a payment” page (screenshot) is coded such that it requires you to fill out BOTH your external credit card and checking account information in order for the form to be submittable, which makes no sense from a user interface perspective – if it were actually intended to be used for processing payments. Once you submit bogus information, the page leads nowhere, not even to a “wrong password” page.
    • The submit button on the “Make a Payment” page says “Submit Your Application” (screenshot)
    • The account login page‘s submit button says “Submit and Check Your Credit Score for Free” (screenshot), and leads nowhere if you put in bogus information.
  • Are they trying to bilk the $99 application fee out of people with poor credit?
    • Their terms & conditions page is inconsistent with the bullets on their site. The site says you get the $99 application fee back “After First Payment”. The terms & conditions page (screenshot) says you get the $99 back if you cancel the card “within five days of application date”, which might be difficult because it also says “Please allow for four weeks from date of submission to process a completed application”.
    • The fine print drops a bombshell – you aren’t necessarily going to get approved for the card you applied for – (screenshot). On discussion forums, one person reports receiving a prepaid debit card after an extensive wait. Here are a few examples of affiliates promoting the card using the “approved copy” – a bad credit website, and comparison site CardTrak. This marketing copy is deceptive, because (i) there is a credit check involved based on the fine print, (ii) approval is not guaranteed, for the advertised card.
  • Does the credit card even exist? I can’t find any credible reports of people actually receiving the card, and there are circumstantial hints that the card does not even exist.
    • There appears to be an effort to fake a person named “Rossana Laspina” on Yahoo Answers, who claims to have received the card. She has been active on Yahoo Answers exactly 2 weeks at the time of this writing, and has been answering completely random topics in hopes of looking like a real person. The two other users who claim to have received the card, Tish Alvarez and Sharika Torske, have deleted profiles.
    • Yahoo Answers also has other highly suspicious activity, namely all the posts where the “contributor” says the card is a scam have been voted down to the point where Yahoo hides the answer. Meanwhile, other posts have been voted up.
    • This thread has a member who states that they received a prepaid debit card, with a zero balance, despite being promised a credit card based on the credit screen.
    • It’s highly unusual for a credit card not to have a Visa or MC logo on the front.
    • They do not list a card issuing bank, which I’ve never seen before.
  • Did they catch BankRate off guard? Google’s cache shows that BankRate previously advertised the card, but 3 weeks later the card has been pulled from the site.

I have enough faith in my readers that I doubt any of you would actually have shipped off $99 to these guys. But still, it would be nice to see them put out of business. In the absence of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, what’s the best way to do that? Asking their web host to take down the site would probably just result in it popping up elsewhere.

The Anacott site says that the $99 payment goes through AlliedWallet, which might be a more fruitful line of attack. They seem to be based in London, but I can’t get through on the phone number they provide there. Still, AllliedWallet did recently put out this press release:

Allied Wallet has engaged the Brand Protection Group to persistently monitor its entire merchant portfolio to ensure its clients remain in compliance with all laws, regulations, and card brand guidelines.

I retain some hope, then, that with the help of AlliedWallet and BrandProtection, Anacott Financial might not last long. Still, the underlying scam — not to mention the underlying scamsters — won’t go away.

The solution is simple: If you’re dealing with any company based solely on their web presence, at the very least do a cursory web search on them first. If the first thing you find is a litany of complaints, it’s probably a good idea to avoid that company.

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