A huge payday lending operation based in Kansas City will be banned from offering any more loans under a $54 million settlement announced by federal regulators Tuesday.
The Federal Trade Commission accused 14 companies owned by two Johnson County men, Timothy A. Coppinger and Frampton T. Rowland III, of using online data to take out loans for people without their permission.
The companies — including CWB Services LLC, Anasazi Group LLC and Sandpoint Capital LLC — targeted borrowers who had gone online to research short-term payday loans, which tend to be small-dollar loans repaid in two-week increments.
Borrowers would type their personal financial information, including checking account and routing numbers, into third-party websites known as “lead generators” to see whether the sites could match them with a lender. But most never formally applied for any loans, according to the complaint filed by the FTC.
Coppinger and Rowland’s companies then bought the borrowers’ information from the lead generators, deposited $200-$300 “loans” in borrowers’ accounts without their permission, and started withdrawing up to $90 at a time for “finance charges,” the complaint said.
The withdrawals didn’t go toward paying down any principal, however. And the companies allegedly sold the fake loans to debt buyers, who hounded the applicants for more money, the complaint alleges.
If anyone tried to contest the unauthorized transactions, the companies would “misrepresent to the banks that consumers authorized the transactions,” according to the FTC’s complaint.
The companies even produced bogus loan applications or other phony documents as proof that people had agreed to borrow the money, the FTC said.
The FTC also charged the companies with misleading those who actually wanted the loans by misstating the real finance charges, annual percentage rates, payment schedules and number of payments.
“For example, instead of paying $390 for a $300 loan (as stated in the loan’s disclosure documents) some consumers have paid defendants more than $1,000” in automatic charges that would occur every two weeks, according to the complaint.
In a single year from 2012 to 2013, Coppinger and Rowland’s companies issued $28 million in payday “loans” and withdrew more than $46.5 million from bank accounts, the FTC says.
Consumer groups say the case underscores the dangers posed by the buying and selling of consumers’ personal data online.
“The FTC has a target-rich environment for enforcement actions until Congress steps in to rein in their out-of-control sales of consumer information,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. PIRG, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
As a result of Tuesday’s settlements, the companies Coppinger and Rowland controlled can no longer participate in the lending business and are barred from debiting or billing consumers or making unauthorized electronic fund transfers.
Phil Greenfield, an attorney for Rowland, said his client already had stopped his lending activity voluntarily, long before the FTC filed the case.
“Mr. Rowland fully cooperated in the FTC investigation, and there was no evidence Mr. Rowland participated in, or knew about, any of Mr. Coppinger’s or his call center’s challenged lending practices,” Greenfield said in an email.
He said Rowland accepted the FTC offer to settle the case “simply to move on with his life.”
Coppinger could not be reached for comment.
The settlements were filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri and are subject to court approval.
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