Fake Sites Leave CUs Stumped; it's a Growing Problem in Credit Union Land
MADISON, Wis. - As advertisements and Web sites for fake credit unions pop up across the country, credit unions are left uncertain how to protect themselves. Just after exposing a fake company in Florida calling itself Century CU for releasing advertisements in Missouri, Ohio, San Francisco, the dubious ads have now made their way to Indiana. On the West Coast, an ad for "Zurich CU", a nonexistent credit union was recently placed in the Washington-based Everett-Herald newspaper. A visit to the Zurichcreditunion.com Web site displays not only a toll-free number but also the logo of United Kingdom financial heavyweight Zurich Financial. Washington Credit Union League Public Relations Specialist Linda Wagener-Padden called the "credit union's" toll-free number listed in the ad and was told the credit union was based in Carrolton, Georgia. The Georgia CU Affiliates eventually traced it to a number sold in a do-it-yourself toll-free package typically sold in discount stores in Canada. According to World Council of CUs Credit Union Analyst Tina Barnes, at least four people have contacted her about sites for fake institutions-all using the words credit union. "These organizations are using the words 'credit union' because there is not an international protection of the words," said Barnes. For now, the legitimate Century CU based in St. Louis Missouri has contacted local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, NCUA, the Federal Trade Commission and the Missouri and Florida regulators. In addition, the Indiana League has issued scam alerts to its affiliated credit unions. As for the Zurich CU ads, they were pulled after the newspaper was unable to validate the advertiser's identity. A Georgia regulator was ready to order a "cease and desist" but the business address turned out to be a fake. "Our state regulator has notified the Canadian banking authorities and the Canadian phone authorities. Their response was, `We know about it, and we're working on it, but we don't know what we can do about it'," said Cindy Connelly, Georgia Credit Union Affiliates senior vice president advocacy. "It's frustrating. No one knows what to do or can figure out who can fix it."