PHOENIX (3TV /CBS 5) -- The $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program suffered a rocky rollout on Friday, with many small business owners reporting issues accessing the U.S. Small Business Administration loans, and now there is an alternate "SBA" website that's adding to the confusion, 3 On Your Side has learned.
An Arizona business owner, who asked 3 On Your Side to not to use his name, says he went online to apply for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program. He entered information, including his company's name, his contact information, and his credit score, and ever since, he says he has been flooded with offers for loans and credit cards. He didn't realize until it was too late that he was on the wrong SBA site. He ended up at SBA.com rather than SBA.gov, the U.S. Small Business Administration's official website.
In big, bold letters, SBA.com claims "your Paycheck Protection Program starts here," and it walks users through how the loans can be used and who can apply.
A closer look at the site reveals SBA.com has no government affiliation, and in fine print, SBA.com says it may be compensated for advertising lending services. According to the site, if its partner company is not able to connect business owners with a lender for the Paycheck Protection Program, "you may receive offers for different types of non-SBA loans."
Eric Knott from the Arizona Small Business Association says business owners can't afford the confusion.
"In faint print up at the top, it does say, 'Hey, we’re not affiliated with the government,' but after that, there’s a big American flag and it is, from an optics standpoint, well put together. I certainly do have concerns about that," Knott told 3 On Your Side. "Realistically, any time that’s spent or effort that’s spent applying for resources through some other site other than SBA.gov conceivably is time wasted."
The Federal Trade Commission declined to comment on any specific websites, but in a statement to 3 On Your side said “As small businesses struggle during this crisis, the FTC stands ready to protect them from deceptive marketing practices and unfair conduct.”
The FTC also said business owners should report any suspected issues to the agency.
Jason Ramin, the CEO of SBA.com acknowledged the similarities between SBA.com and SBA.gov could confuse consumers, but defended the site. According to Ramin, the company has been a resource for the business community for years, and overhauled the website when the Paycheck Protection Program launched.
“It’s not time wasted,” Ramin told 3 On Your Side. “We’ve really worked hard to make sure we can help people. We’re only connecting them with lenders that are able to fund [Paycheck Protection Program] loans.”
Ramin told 3 On Your Side the company plans to make minor changes to the website to make disclosures more obvious.
“It’s important for us to be as clear as possible,” Ramin added. “We’re making updates to our site to make it even more clear by making the text less faint and the top bar bigger to stand out.”