If you’re trying to find the trade group for payday lenders and Google “payday lenders association,” one of the first sites that pops up may catch you by surprise. It’s called the Predatory Lending Association (PLA), and the site is so well done it may take you a minute to realize that it’s a joke.
What forces the average distracted web surfer to do a double-take is that the PLA looks so much like the real thing by seeming to take the side of payday lenders, who actually are represented by the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA).
The difference is that the fake site is just a tad more over-the-top. Both sites open up to a picture of someone staring down at a computer, with other photo boxes to the right with joyous people smiling. Whereas the real site offers “Your rights as a payday advance customer” behind one of these boxes, the PLA has a feature it calls “Profit from the working poor. Who are they?”
Both sites offer helpful tips buttons on the left side of the page. The CFSA talks about its minority scholarship program. It likens payday loans to a taxi ride: Good for short distances, but expensive when used for long-term budget needs.
Meanwhile the Predatory Lenders Association offers tools including a “working poor finder,” which places gun shops, liquor stores and pawn shops on the map and shows would-be investors in payday loan stores the best locations to open new locations. It also gives tips on finding for the most profitable races to discriminate against.
“It’s easy to find the working poor,” the predatory lenders site says, “but our studies reveal that a difference in location of even a few city blocks can impact profits by as much as 45%.”
The PLA spoof was one of the first websites created by Front Seat, a Seattle-based company that usually makes web tools more earnest than snarky. Its big one these days is walkscore.com where you can enter any address and see how walkable the neighborhood is, on a scale of 1 to 100.
“We’re a for-profit operating like a nonprofit,” says Aleisha Jacobson, the company’s office administrator. “The idea is to use software to make the world a better place.”
Front Seat was founded by Mike Mathieu, a former Microsoft worker who founded allstardirectories.com, which helps would-be students search for schools. Mathieu sold the company in 2006, and now is using the proceeds to support Front Seat, Jacobson says.