Schneiderman: My office will fight to protect consumers from predatory lending
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has announced his office filed a lawsuit against Western Sky Financial LLC, CashCall Inc., WS Funding LLC, and their owners, Martin Webb and J. Paul Reddam, for violations of New York's usury and licensed lender laws in connection with their issuing of personal loans over the Internet. The companies charged annual rates of interest from 89 percent to more than 355 percent to thousands of New York consumers. These interest rates far exceed the maximum rate allowed under New York law, which is limited to 16 percent for most lenders not licensed by the state.
None of the companies sued are licensed in New York.
"Western Sky and CashCall charged exorbitant interest rates on their loans to scam New Yorkers out of millions of dollars," Schneiderman said. "With this case and others, my office will continue to fight to protect New Yorkers from illegal business practices and stop companies that seek to prey upon consumers facing tough economic times."
The companies, located in South Dakota and California, targeted New York consumers through television and Internet advertising that promised "fast cash" to consumers in urgent need of money. The companies took advantage of these consumers by charging extremely high rates of interest that were above New York state's usury caps. For example, consumers that received loans of $1,000 were charged an interest rate of more than 234 percent, and had to repay as much as $4,942 in interest and principal over just two years.
New York borrowers who questioned the legality of these loans were falsely told by the companies that New York law did not apply. Some consumers were also targeted with deceptive debt collection calls in further violation of New York law.
Since 2010, the companies have made at least 17,970 loans to New York consumers, lending more than $38 million in principal. New York consumers owed more than $185 million on these loans in finance charges alone.
The AG's camp said many who fall victim to short-term, high-interest rate loans are individuals with rising debt and few financial alternatives. These individuals are least able to secure traditional forms of credit. New York has some of the toughest lending laws in the nation. Its civil usury law prohibits most non-bank lenders that are not licensed by New York state from charging more than 16 percent interest on small unsecured loans. Lenders that are licensed by New York cannot charge more than 25 percent under New York's criminal usury laws. Lenders that set up shop out of state, overseas, or on tribal lands in an attempt to evade state regulation are still subject to New York laws when lending to New York consumers.
The attorney general's lawsuit - which is based on an investigation that began last fall - seeks a court order prohibiting the companies and individuals from engaging in further illegal lending or enforcing existing usurious loan contracts, cancellation of all outstanding loans, restitution for New Yorker borrowers of all interest collected above the legal limit of 16 percent interest, and disgorgement of profits. The lenders also face penalties of up to $5,000 per violation for deceptive acts and practices.
Assistant attorneys general Jordan Adler and Clark Russell are prosecuting the case, under the supervision of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection Chief Jane M. Azia and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.