Banks have started to rid themselves of ties to industries that regulators deem unsavory, from pornography to gun sales to payday loans. But it may not be enough to fully cleanse banks of legal liabilities.

A recent spate of judicial rulings suggests that banks' next worry may stem from a potentially costly group of related lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers. These plaintiffs make a core argument that should send a chill down many bank executives' spines: the banks should have known that their payday-lender customers were doing illegal things and thus were helping them break the law.

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