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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – If a potential member uses a search engine to locate your credit union, are you sure that your Web site is the only one that will pop up? In what could be the start of a disturbing new trend, payday lenders and Internet scam artists may be misleading consumers by literally using the good name of a credit union. According to CU Online Consultant Karen Alonzi, a random search in the Google search engine for her clients led to some surprising results. “I maintain Web sites for several small credit unions here and when I entered the credit union’s name its Web site appeared first but the listing underneath was to a page on another site,” said Alonzi. “Of course it is possible for other names to pop up on a general search, but what caught my eye is that the other site had lifted its description right from the credit union’s Web site.” The resulting page said “Welcome to CashBackValues.com” and hyperlinks to a payday-lending site that offers “members” a $500 instant deposit by “simply enter their checking account information and e-mail address”. Although the site did not mention the credit union directly, Alonzi says that hidden in the source code for the www.cashbackvalues.com site were the names of many credit unions and text from their pages. (Search engines match “hits” via source codes.) “It seems as though CashBack Values is hoping to confuse credit union members into believing they are associated with the credit union somehow,” said Alonzi. “They went to a lot of time and effort to find credit unions and build them into a network of references yet from what I can tell no such affiliation exists.” The Cashbackvalues.com site is very slick looking and contact can only be made via e-mail and a fax number. The Better Business Bureau has received several complaints regarding the company and a Phoenix, Arizona-based consumer advocate radio talk show host Kim Kommando has recently blasted the company as an “Internet scam.” “The scary thing is that it is so very deceptive,” said Alonzi. “And if they pull it off and members give their name and account number the potential for fraud is great.” So what can credit unions do? According to Alonzi just protect their members with information. “My first suggestion is that every credit union should get approved by the Better Business Bureau and get that seal of approval on their Web site. Then make it clear to your members: If you don’t see the seal, don’t do business with this site,” said Alonzi. Alonzi also advises credit unions to send a cease and desist notice to the company and report the company to the Better Business Bureau. “Credit unions can also put a notice on their Web site or in their next newsletter warning members about this practice in general,” said Alonzi. “It is hard to take preventive action because this is not a referral link so it is difficult and too time consuming to do regular checks over search engines to discover which sites are mentioning credit unions. In the future this may be one of the things we might have to make time for.” [email protected]

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