Auto Lender Will Pay $5.5 Million to Settle FTC Collection Charges
The Federal Trade Commission charged the company with collecting money consumers did not owe, harassment and disclosing debts to third parties.
A national subprime auto lender will pay more than $5.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the company used illegal tactics to service and collect consumers’ loans, including collecting money consumers did not owe, harassing consumers and third parties, and disclosing debts to friends, family and employers.
The Irvine, Calif., company agreed to refund or adjust 128,000 consumers’ accounts more than $3.5 million and forebear collections on an additional 35,000 accounts to settle charges the company violated the FTC Act. The lender will pay another $2 million in civil penalties to settle FTC charges that the company violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s Furnisher Rule.
The order settling the charges requires the company to change its business practices to comply with the requirements of the appropriate laws. In addition, the company is required to establish and maintain a comprehensive data integrity program to ensure the accuracy, integrity and completeness of its loan servicing processes, and the data and other information it services, collects or sells. The company must also provide the FTC with periodic independent assessments of its data integrity program for 10 years.
According to the FTC’s complaint, violations include:
- Misrepresenting fees consumers owed in collection calls, monthly statements, pay-off notices, and bankruptcy filings.
- Making unsubstantiated claims about the amounts consumers owed.
- Improperly assessing and collecting fees or other amounts.
- Unilaterally modifying contracts by, for example, increasing principal balances.
- Failing to disclose financial effects of loan extensions.
- Misrepresenting that consumers must use particular payment methods requiring service fees.
- Misrepresenting that the company audits verified consumer accounts balances.
The company’s collection violations include disclosing the existence of debts to third parties; calling consumers at work when not permitted or inconvenient; calling third parties repeatedly with intent to harass; making unauthorized debits from consumer bank accounts; falsely threatening car repossession; and deceptively manipulating Caller ID. Because for many of its accounts the company is a creditor, the complaint charges these practices violated Section 5 of the FTC Act. For those accounts where the company is a debt collector, the complaint charges these practices violated the FDCPA.