money-scam.jpgWhen it's tough to get a bank loan, scammers pop out of the woodwork with offers to "help." Recently, the Small Business Administration warned business owners about a spike in complaints they've received about SBA loan fraud. A particular target is apparently the SBA Express loan, which offers loans up to $350,000.

Here's what to watch out for if you're considering an SBA loan:

  • High fees charged for assisting you in filling out your SBA loan application
  • A guarantee your loan will be approved (the SBA offers no such guarantees to anyone)
  • Charges for services you didn't request
  • Requests for your bank account or social security number made over the phone
  • Threats that you will be ineligible for SBA assistance if you don't use the company's services
  • Inflated claims are made on your application that don't accurately portray your finances
There are legitimate companies out there that help companies package their SBA loans. They don't employ any of the above practices. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports the Inspector General has convicted loan "agents" in cases involving more than $260 million in SBA loans.

If you feel boggled by the SBA-loan application process, know that you can get free help at your local SBA office. You may also get all the assistance you need from your small-business bank. SBA doesn't issue loans, they just guarantee them, so you will still be going to your bank to get the actual loan. If they're experienced in SBA lending, your banker should be a good source for shepherding you through this process.

Don't have a strong banking relationship? Work on building one. Scammers target business owners who've been turned down by their bank, or don't have a good working bank relationship. They promise to shop your loan around to dozens of banks and find you the best "deal." If you have a banker who'll help you, that should keep you clear of crooked loan agents.