VANCOUVER -- It’s one of the riskiest scams, according to the Better Business Bureau. Companies claiming to offer loans say they require loan insurance up front. But once you pay the insurance cost, the loan never materializes and you’re left in even worse financial straits than before.

The Lower Mainland BBB says it has seen a spate of these loan scams in the last six months, originating from a variety of companies, including Roswatertin Financial Group, Riverbine Financial Group, and Walsick Financial Group Inc.

“They are primarily targeting persons who have some kind of financial struggle or financial difficulty and it would be difficult for them to get loans through your typical financial institutions,” says the BBB’s Karla Laird. “They promise them loans without any kind of severe penalties or no credit check required.”

She adds recent immigrants are particulary vulnerable because, while advance fees for loans are illegal in Canada, they are normal in other countries and may not seem like a red flag.

The supposed loan insurance fees British Columbians have paid – and lost – range from $950 to $3,500, and applicants are hoping to get between $20,000 and $500,000 in loans. But then, the loan doesn’t materialize.

“Then afterwards they’ve had pretty much immense difficulty getting through to the company,” Laird says. “In some instances, they don’t get through or if they do get through to someone, they’re not getting their issues resolved. And ultimately they get fed up and stop contacting the company because they realize it’s a scam, or report to BBB hoping we can assist in the process.”

The companies seem to have fake addresses. One listed 800 Robson Street as its location – that’s Robson Square, and there’s no loan company operating there. The City of Surrey doesn’t have business licenses or records linked to the companies that claim to operate there, and there’s no record of any as legitimate lenders with Consumer Protections BC.

The local reports to the BBB started last November, and have come from victims in Surrey, Richmond, Nanaimo and Kelowna. And losing your money isn’t the only consequence of getting roped in.

“It’s also facilitating identity theft,” Laird says. “They get your full name, all of your contact information; In some cases your banking information and your social insurance number as part of the loan process. But it’s really a scam.”