Two men who operated a service matching borrowers with potential lenders will pay $800,000 and the proceeds from the sale of a house to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they tricked hundreds of thousands of payday loan applicants into paying for an unrelated debit card.
The FTC said it is closely monitoring payday lending and other financial services in order to protect financially distressed consumers.
According to the FTC’scomplaintSwish Marketing, Inc.and its principalsoperated websites advertising short-term, or “payday,” loan matching services. The websites included an online loan application form that allegedly tricked consumers into unknowingly ordering a debit card when they applied for a loan online.
On many sites, clicking the button for submitting loan applications led to four product offers unrelated to the loan, each with tiny “Yes” and “No” buttons. “No” was pre-clicked for three of them; “Yes” was pre-clicked for a debit card, with fine-print disclosures asserting the consumers’ consent to have their bank account debited.
Consumers who simply clicked a prominent “Finish matching me with a payday loan provider!” button were charged for the debit card. Other websites touted the card as a “bonus” and disclosed the fee only in fine print below the submit button. As a result, the FTC alleged that consumers were improperly charged up to $54.95 each.
In August 2009, the FTC charged Swish Marketing and VirtualWorks LLC, the seller of the debit card, and their principals with deceptive business practices. In April 2010, the FTC filedan amended complaintagainst the Swish Marketing defendants, adding allegations that they sold consumers’ bank account information to VirtualWorks without the consumers’ consent, and thatthe company's ownerswere aware of consumer complaints about the unauthorized debits.