Georgia Attorney General Orders Payday Lenders to Pay $40 Million in Civil Monetary Penalty and Restitution to Consumers

On February 8, the Office of the Georgia Attorney General announced that it had entered into a settlement agreement with two payday lenders over claims that the companies violated the state’s Payday Lending Act, which prohibits unlicensed loans of $3,000 or less. While the interest rate for loans made under the Payday Lending Act is capped at 10 percent, the unlicensed lenders in this case allegedly issued over 18,000 loans with interest rates ranging from 140 percent to 340 percent and collected over $32 million in associated interest and fees since 2010. According to the terms of the settlement, the companies are required to (i) pay $23.5 million in consumer restitution; (ii) cease all collections and forgive all outstanding loans; (iii) pay a $1 million civil penalty to the state; and (iv) pay $500,000 as reimbursement for the state’s attorneys’ fees and costs.

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CFPB Orders Payday Lender to Pay Over $500k in Civil Monetary Penalty and Restitution to Customers

On December 16, the CFPB announced that it had entered a stipulation and consent order assessing a $250,000 civil monetary penalty and other remediation against a financial-services company that offers payday loans and check-cashing services based on allegations that it misled consumers through deceptive online advertisements and collections letters and made unauthorized electronic transfers from consumers’ bank accounts. Among other things, the Bureau took particular issue with the fact that Bureau examiners had previously identified “significant compliance-management-system weaknesses that heightened the risk that violations w[ould] occur,” and that “[a]t the times the violations described in this order, the company had not adequately addressed these issues.”

According to the terms of the consent order, the company is required to: (i) end its deceptive practices and obtain authorization for any electronic-fund transfers; (ii) pay approximately $255,000 to redress harm caused to affected consumers; and (iii) pay a civil monetary penalty of $250,000. As explained by CFPB Director Richard Cordray, “consumers were making decisions based on false and deceptive information, and today’s action will give the company’s customers the redress they are owed.”

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FTC Announces $1.3 Billion Judgment Against Payday Lenders

On October 4, the FTC announced a $1.3 billion judgment against defendants responsible for operating an allegedly deceptive payday lending scheme. The judgment is the result of 2012 complaint in which the FTC alleged that the defendants engaged in deceptive acts or practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act by making false and misleading representations about costs and payment of the loans. According to the FTC, the defendants claimed that they would charge consumers the loan amount and a one-time finance fee.  However, the court found that the defendants “made multiple withdrawals from consumers’ bank accounts and assessed a new finance fee each time, without disclosing the true costs of the loan.” The $1.3 billion order is the largest litigated judgment the FTC has obtained to date.

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FTC Issues Paper on Lead Generation, Recaps “Follow the Lead” 2015 Workshop

On September 15, the FTC issued a paper summarizing the insights garnered through its October 2015 “Follow the Lead” workshop on lead generation. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the workshop focused on lead generation issues in the mortgage and education lending space. The FTC paper “detail[s] the mechanics of online lead generation and potential benefits and concerns associated with lead generation for both businesses and consumers.” The paper provides a synopsis of payday lenders’ role in the lead generation industry by describing their use of the “ping tree,” an automated process that enables aggregators to sell consumers’ personal information to lenders or other aggregators. Although the paper acknowledges that lead generators provide potential benefits to consumer, including the ability to offer competitive prices in the mortgage lending space, it never-the-less identifies the following key areas of concern: (i) complexity and lack of transparency surrounding industry policies and processes; (ii) the use of potentially aggressive or deceptive marketing techniques; and (iii) the potential misuse and mishandling of consumers’ personal information in the payday lending space.

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CFSA Releases Positive Payday Loan Testimonials Submitted to the CFPB

On September 6, the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) released a 2,000-plus page document containing testimonials submitted to the CFPB regarding consumers’ positive experiences with the payday loan industry. A CFSA representative uncovered the allegedly “buried” stories through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed December 31, 2015. According to the CFSA, of the newly discovered 12,546 consumer comments regarding to the payday loan industry, 12,308 “praised the industry and its products and services, or otherwise indicated positive experiences.” Among other things, the CFSA further noted that (i) since the CFPB implemented its consumer complaint portal in 2011, approximately 1.5% of all complaints received related to the payday loan industry; (ii) in an FTC 2015 summary of consumer complaints, the “FTC found that just 0.003% of more than three million complaints related to payday lending”; and (iii) at least two customer surveys reveal that payday loan borrowers are overwhelmingly satisfied with the product. Regarding the CFPB’s proposed rules to address the short-term lending industry, CFSA CEO Dennis Shaul commented, “[i]t is clear that millions of consumers are satisfied with the payday loan product and services, and do not want the federal government to take this valued credit option away from them.”

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