Fleet Financial Group is being accused of making credit too easily available to consumers in the Northeast.
Some recipients of the Boston-based company's "live check" mailing, one of a growing number of pre-approved offers to deposit a bank loan directly into a customer's account, have registered complaints with Fleet.
The Massachusetts attorney general's office also said it had received telephone calls and may investigate the marketing practice further - if it receives written requests to do so.
"It does sound like something we would look into," said assistant attorney general Pamela Kogut.
The concerns center on the unsolicited nature of the offers and an ease of access to credit lines - Fleet last week mailed 675,000 checks for as much as $7,500 to "pre-approved" customers - that could encourage borrowers to overextend.
One consumer advocate said the program is "ripe for misunderstanding."
"People are having money waved in front of them, and they are not really sure of the terms," said Bruce Dorpalen, director of loan counseling at the Philadelphia-based community group, Acorn Housing Corp.
The practice and the public outcry are reminiscent - though still on a far smaller scale - of the unsolicited credit card offers that caused significant bank losses in the 1960s, leading to enactment of the Truth-in- Lending law.
The current check-credit trend is a new wrinkle on the pre-approved credit lines that became a staple of credit card marketing in recent years. Signet Banking Corp.'s chief financial officer, Wallace Millner 3d, told Wall Street analysts last month that problems in its "loan-by-check" program were likely to lower second-quarter earnings.
Richmond-based Signet saw a surge in chargeoffs in the third and fourth quarters of 1995 associated with the national direct-mail solicitations for loans averaging $7,500.
Similarly, Citicorp's New York consumer bank is mailing its customers pre-approved offers at an annual interest rate of 14.50%; when the customer signs, Citibank puts the funds in a checking account. Bank spokesmen said they did not know the program's default or delinquency rates.
Fleet officials hastened to point out their "live check" differs from other banks' offers. Fleet's is confined to New York and New England, rather than "areas where we don't have operating knowledge," said bank spokesman James Mahoney.
"We have a very rigorous pre-approval process which checks credit history and other data," he added, using a system from TRW Information Systems and Services.
Three-fourths of the mailings go to Fleet customers, Mr. Mahoney said.
Fleet also said it has had a lower default rate with "live check" than it has had with similar loans made through branches. But Mr. Dorpalen said that since Fleet only started the mailings in January, it was too early to tell what credit problems might arise.
Fleet is offering some customers $3,000 loans, some $4,000, and the rest $7,500. Interest rates range from 11.9% to 13.9%.
Meanwhile, Fleet said Wednesday that it had completed its acquisition of Natwest Bank N.A., the New Jersey-based subsidiary of National Westminster Bank PLC, London. Fleet now has $90 billion in assets.