Consumers who lost money in an online operation that illegally debited their bank accounts when they sought payday loans are being mailed checks this week totaling $1.5 million.
The action against Direct Benefits Group LLC, Voice Net Global LLC, Solid Core Solutions Inc., WKMS Inc., Kyle Wood and Mark Berry, follows a federal court ruling that halted the operations.
The Federal Trade Commission in 2011 charged the companies and individuals with the illegal bank account debiting and failing to disclose that they would use bank account information to charge consumers for enrolling in unwanted programs and services, according to the FTC’s complaint. The court froze the defendants’ assets at that time pending resolution of the case.
U.S. District Court Judge John Antoon II in July 2013 found that the FTC proved its case, that a permanent injunction to stop the illegal practices was warranted and that consumers were entitled to the return of more than $9.5 million. It was not immediately clear if the difference between that figure and the $1.5 million going to consumers this week will be returned at a later date.
The FTC is mailing more than 64,600 checks.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants' websites specifically asked for consumers' personal and financial information and, near the end of the loan application form, offered unrelated programs for food, travel and merchandise discounts, or for long distance calling and Internet access.
Many consumers who clicked to submit an application were enrolled in those programs without their knowledge. Bank accounts were then charged, initially, up to $59.90 per month, and later up to to $99.90 per year.
The FTC's complaint alleged that the defendants sent consumers' bank account information to Landmark Clearing Inc. and other payment processors to electronically generate remotely created payment orders that debited consumers' bank accounts.