CFPB Hits Auto Lender with $48.3M in Fines, Restitution

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WASHINGTON — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau hit an indirect auto lender and a subsidiary with $48.3 million in fines and restitution on Thursday, accusing it of deceptive collection tactics.

The agency said that Los Angeles-based Westlake Services and auto title lender Wilshire Consumer Credit called consumers under false pretenses and used phony caller ID information in an effort to collect on debts. The companies also allegedly falsely threatened to refer borrowers for investigation or criminal prosecution and illegally disclosed information about debts to borrowers' employers, friends and family.

"There's no excuse for lying to your customers, and today's action will provide millions of dollars in relief for borrowers caught up in Westlake and Wilshire's deception," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a press release. "Consumers struggling to pay their bills deserve to be treated with respect, not subjected to illegal threats and deceptive phone calls. We will continue to clean up the debt-collection market and root out these illegal and inexcusable practices."

The CFPB ordered the companies to provide $44.1 million in cash relief and balance reductions to affected customers and pay an additional $4.25 million in civil money penalties.

The agency said the companies' debt collectors altered called ID information for outgoing calls to make it appear that they were calling from other companies, including repossession firms.

"The companies' debt collectors would then pretend during the call that they were calling from repossession companies and make explicit or implicit threats that the borrowers' vehicles were in imminent danger of being repossessed," the CFPB release said.

A representative for Westlake Services did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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Law and regulation Enforcement Auto lending Consumer banking