On April 17, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Ponte Investments, LLC – a Rhode Island-based company – and its owner, John C. Ponte, claiming that they misrepresented Ponte Investments as an approved small business lender for the federal coronavirus (“COVID-19”) relief program. The FTC has sought a permanent injunction and other equitable relief from the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, including requiring Ponte Investments to cease its alleged misrepresentations. Ponte Investments also operates as “SBA Loan Program” and “SBA Loan Program.com.”
According to the FTC complaint, Ponte Investments falsely claimed an affiliation with the United States Small Business Administration (“SBA”) by marketing itself directly and indirectly to small businesses as an approved lender under the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”). The FTC asserts that none of the defendants are affiliated with the SBA in any way, including as an authorized lender. Yet, the complaint cites numerous representations from the company’s websites asserting the opposite, such as: “WE ARE A DIRECT LENDER FOR THE PPP PROGRAM.” The FTC claims that hundreds, if not thousands, of small businesses have submitted loan applications to the defendants.
This action serves as a reminder of the FTC and other regulators’ aggressive actions to combat fraud and other bad actors during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the agency has encouraged all consumers to report any scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic directly through its complaint portal at ftc.gov/complaint.