Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 16:01 UK

Millionaire accused of loan scam

James Benamor
James Benamor gave away money on Channel 4's Secret Millionaire

A millionaire from Bournemouth has made a fortune by misleading people over loans, a BBC investigation revealed.

James Benamor, who owns Richmond Group and is worth an estimated 77m, offers to arrange loans for people with poor credit. Many pay a 50 fee.

But many customers do not get a loan - only a list of other banks and lenders.

Mr Benamor, who appeared on Channel 4's Secret Millionaire to give away money, denies misleading customers and said he offered a brokerage service.

But undercover BBC reporter Joe Crowley made a series of loan applications and said that on each occasion sales staff gave the impression he had been accepted for a loan.

The way they talked to me I was 100% sure they were trying to help
Shirley O'Sullivan
Customer

Mr Benamor's Richmond Group employs almost 300 people in Bournemouth.

His companies include Tenant Loans and Advantage Loans. Half a million customers have signed up in the past year.

During one call, the BBC undercover reporter told the sales staff he was on benefits and wanted to borrow 10,000 to gamble on horses. On another he said he wanted to borrow 15,000 to invest on the stock market.

Rent arrears

He said the staff said yes every time "because the company just wants to take the 50 fee".

One customer, Joanne Amorello, agreed to pay a fee because she was convinced she was going to get a 500 loan.

"I had already booked things to do with the kids and I even rang the housing office to say my rent arrears are going to be paid," she told the BBC.

Joanne Amorello
Joanne Amorello believed she was getting a loan

Another, Shirley O'Sullivan, was also certain she would get a loan.

"The way they talked to me I was 100% sure they were trying to help. They seemed such nice people and I thought 'they understand'."

Mr Benamor said his companies offered a loan brokerage service which was independent and worked only on behalf of clients to find the best loan for them.

"We will always inform clients that we do not guarantee loan amounts or APRs which ultimately are offered by lenders," he said.

Andy Sherriff, of Bournemouth Trading Standards, said: "The circumstances suggest it could easily be misleading. People are not being frank, they are not being honest with you."

'Refunded all clients'

Under the Consumer Credit Act, Mr Benamor has to give dissatisfied customers a refund. But several customers told the BBC they had struggled to get their money back.

Mr Benamor said: "In cases like these where our clients are unhappy with loans found by us we have a simple refund procedure which requires the client to write in to cancel their service and request a refund.

"This is clearly explained to our clients; however according to our system no request was ever received. We have now refunded all of the clients in full."

Mr Benamor does offer loans through his company FLM Loans, but they must be guaranteed by a homeowner with a good credit history.

The Office of Fair Trading said it was "minded to revoke" Mr Benamor's credit licence.

The full report was shown on BBC 1's Inside Out on Wednesday 22 October at 7.30pm.




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