The investigation's nickname is "Operation Choke Point," and that seems appropriate, because a noose appears to be tightening around the necks of banks that have business ties to online payday lenders.

A tentative $1.2 million settlement between the Department of Justice and a small North Carolina bank earlier this month sent a warning signal to at least 50 other companies — the list includes both banks and third-party payment processors — that have received subpoenas in the probe.

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