An international Internet payday lending operation will pay $1 million to settle Federal Trade Commission and State of Nevada charges that it failed to disclose key loan terms and used unlawful debt collection tactics.
The defendants operated from the United Kingdom and targeted consumers in the United States, who were misled into believing that the defendants operated from Nevada. According to a complaint filed by the FTC and Nevada in 2008, the defendants told consumers that the loans had to be repaid by their next payday with a fee ranging from $35 to $80, or the loans would be extended automatically for an extra fee debited from consumers’ bank accounts until the loans were repaid.
The FTC charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act by using unfair and deceptive collection tactics. The Commission alleged that they falsely threatened consumers with arrest or imprisonment, falsely claimed that consumers were legally obligated to pay the debts, threatened to take legal action they could not take, repeatedly called consumers at work using abusive and profane language, and improperly disclosed consumers’ purported debts to third parties. They also allegedly failed to make required written disclosures to consumers before consummating a consumer credit transaction, such as the amount financed, the annual percentage rate, payment schedule, total number of payments, and any late payment fees, in violation of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Regulation Z.
The settlement order requires the defendants to pay $970,125 to the FTC and $29,875 to the State of Nevada. The order prohibits them from falsely claiming that consumers may be arrested or imprisoned for failing to pay debts, that they are legally obligated to pay the full amount of a purported debt, and that for nonpayment they are subject to lawsuit, seizure of property, or garnishment of wages. The defendants also are barred from repeatedly calling consumers’ work places, using obscene or threatening language toward consumers and third parties, and disclosing the existence of consumers’ purported debts to third parties.
The order bars the defendants from violating the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z, including by requiring them to make the required TILA disclosures in extending closed-end credit. The defendants must disclose clearly, in writing, in a form consumers can keep and before a transaction is made, the interest rate and other key terms of their loans; a repayment schedule showing dates when consumers’ bank accounts will be debited for the loans; payments and fees for late or non-payment of the loans; and a statement that payday loans may be limited or prohibited in some states. In addition, the order requires them to obtain consumers’ written confirmation that they have received the required disclosures before making a transaction and, when collecting debts, the defendants must provide consumers, upon request, a written statement of amounts and fees paid and due. The order contains record-keeping and reporting provisions to allow the FTC to monitor compliance.
The order also includes provisions relating to alleged violations of Nevada law. The order prohibits the defendants from violating Nevada state consumer protection law when conducting business from the State of Nevada or when selling goods or services to Nevada residents, including failing to be properly licensed, failing to provide notice and disclosure of all material facts as state law requires, and failing to comply with any state or federal law in selling goods or services.
The settling corporate defendants are Cash Today, Ltd., and The Heathmill Village, Ltd. (both registered in the United Kingdom); The Harris Holdings, Ltd. (registered in Guernsey, an island between England and France); Leads Global, Inc., Waterfront Investments, Inc., ACH Cash, Inc., HBS Services, Inc., Rovinge International, Inc.; and Lotus Leads, Inc. and First4Leads, Inc. (both now dissolved); each also doing business as Cash Today, Route 66 Funding, Global Financial Services International, Ltd., Interim Cash, Ltd., and Big-Int, Ltd. The settling individual defendants are Aaron Gershfield and Ivor Gershfield. The FTC dismissed from the case Jim Harris, who was named in the complaint; he has voluntarily entered into a separate agreement with the State of Nevada that governs his future conduct under state law and provides that he will pay the state a civil penalty.
The FTC appreciates the assistance of the United Kingdom’s consumer and competition authority, the Office of Fair Trading, in this matter.
NOTE: Stipulated court orders are for settlement purposes only and do not necessarily constitute an admission by the defendants of a law violation. Stipulated orders have the force of law when signed by the judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.