A leading figure from the business world has expressed shock at her photograph appearing on a payday lender's website alongside a favourable review of the lender's service.
An exclusive investigation by Moneywise has found that photographs of famous and recognisable faces appeared on the Payday Angels website, displayed alongside endorsements of the firm's services. They include BBC online dragon and successful businesswoman Julie Meyer.
In some cases the photographs are of less famous people – in one case the photograph of a 24-year-old woman killed in the Aurora cinema shooting appeared on the site.
The photographs, which have now been removed, appeared on the Payday Angels home page, where a box labelled "Our Community" contains photos of people who have used the lender's loans service or its website. Unusually, a number of those customers' photographs happen to be recognisable names from the television and business world.
The section features US comedian Rosie O'Donnell, social media guru Claire Diaz-Ortiz, and Julie Meyer. Each of their photographs has a comment attributed to it.
The comment attributed to the photograph of Julie Meyer – who sold her networking business in 2000 for a reputed $50 million – read: "I knew what it would cost, how quick I'd get the money, and how long I had to pay it back. It wasn't an issue because I knew I'd be able to afford it next month – it's like any other loan really."
When told her image was on the Payday Angels home page, a spokesperson for Julie Meyer said: "We have never even heard of Payday Angels. Julie has absolutely no associations with this company, nor does she wish to and certainly does not endorse their business activities."
The photograph of US talk show host O'Donnell – who is widely estimated to have a net wealth of $100 million – is attributed the quote: "The articles on getting out of debt are very useful. I reckon just 30 minutes here has saved me £200 per month."
The quote attributed to a photo Diaz-Ortiz, head of social innovation at Twitter, stated: "The reviews were awesome! It's nice having a full understanding of the process so I've got a chance to weigh up the pros and cons."
The Moneywise investigation also found the same section featured photos of non-famous faces – one was of murdered trainee sports reporter Jessica Ghawi.
The 24-year-old was killed in the Aurora cinema shooting in Colorado in July 2012, but a quote that sat alongside her photo on the Payday Angels website stated: "I got a payday loan to cover Christmas, since I knew in advance that I'd get a bonus at the end of the month, but that's after I'm supposed to have put presents under the tree!"
Another photo features John Lagimodiere, president and owner of a Canadian firm that works with "First Nations and Metis people". Yet another photo shows Stephen Shewan, a band director at a New York state high school.
One photo is of Pedro Cunha, a nanoscientist and former Cambridge graduate who successfully rowed across the Atlantic in an 11m boat in 2010.
When contacted, Cunha said: "The photo is actually taken from my rowing site. I have no problem with people using pictures from my website, as long as they ask for permission first. However, in this case I would have said no since they clearly are using an image I own the copyright to, for commercial purposes and I have not given them permission to use it.
"I would never consider taking such a loan. I want an explanation to why they think they have the right to use the picture and I want them to take it down."
While everyone has the legal right to keep one's image and likeness from being commercially exploited without permission or compensation, very few people are even aware that their image is being used for commercial gain by someone else.
Payday lenders offer short-term, high-interest loans, usually on the understanding that the customer will repay the loan when they receive their next pay cheque. Some lenders have been criticised for charging excessive late payment fees and sky-high interest rates of 4,000% or more, leading to a recent investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.
A spokesman for Payday Angels thanked Moneywise for bringing the matter to their attention. He said the firm had outsourced the site design to an overseas design company and it was this company which had uploaded all of the photographs.
He said: "They clearly were totally out of order in picking the ones they did. We wrongly thought they were stock photos, so this is what has happened and it was an accident. We did intend on replacing them with the faces of actual customers to enable more of a community feel."
The spokesman confirmed that the quotes attributed to the photos were genuine, with some coming from the firm's social network channels.
He added: "We fully admit this is a mistake by us, and are horrified that we've let a mistake like this happen… we will check carefully future work carried out by designers. We will contact the people involved over the next few working days to apologise to all of them."
The photos have now been removed from the website.