Sub-Prime Lender to Pay $5.5M to Settle FTC Harassment Charges

lawsuit_iconIrvine, CA – May 30, 2014 – Consumer Portfolio Services, Inc. (CPS), headquartered in Irvine, California, a subprime auto lender, agreed to 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.

CPS has 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. CPS will pay another $2 million in civil penalties to settle FTC charges that the company violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)’s Furnisher Rule.

“At the FTC, we hold loan servicers responsible for knowing their legal obligations and abiding by them,” said Jessica Rich, director, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The law is very clear: Loan servicers can’t charge consumers more than they owe. And they can’t threaten and harass consumers about delinquent debts.”

Under the settlement order CPS must change its business practices to comply with the requirements of the appropriate laws and 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. CPS is also required to provide the FTC with periodic independent assessments of its data integrity program for 10 years.

According to the FTC’s complaint, CPS’ loan-servicing 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; and 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 CPS is a creditor, the complaint charges these practices violated Section 5 of the FTC Act. For those accounts where CPS is a debt collector, the complaint charges these practices violated the FDCPA.

CPS is also charged with failure to establish and implement reasonable written procedures and failure to reasonably investigate and respond timely to consumer disputes under the Furnisher Rule.

The Commission vote to authorize the staff to refer the complaint to the Department of Justice, and to approve the proposed consent decree, was 4-0-1, with Commissioner Terrell McSweeny not participating. The DOJ filed the complaint and proposed consent decree on behalf of the Commission in the Central District of California on May 28, 2014. The proposed consent decree is subject to court approval.

NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Consent decrees have the force of law when signed by the District Court judge.

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