Pa. snares online lenders charging interest rates as high as 169 percent

Some who took out  high-interest “payday” loans could see a refund after online lenders were caught charging rates up to five times higher than Pennsylvania allows.

The state’s Department of Banking and Securities and two California-based lending companies, WS Funding and Cash Call, have reached an agreement that includes providing some refunds after the firms  were caught making loans with interest rates as high as 169 percent.

The Nevada debt-collection firm Delbert Services Corporation was also found to have broken the state’s interest rate law.

“One of the things they’re so good at is preying on people’s vulnerability,” saidEdward Novak, a department spokesman. “They promise cash easy, right now, in your bank account. And for people who are in debt or in a temporary financial bind, that message is very appealing.”

Loans with interest rates over 30 percent have been illegal in Pennsylvania since 2008. Since then, payday loan stores have become obsolete, but Novak said it has been much harder to police the online lenders that often operate outside the state or even the country.

“In some instances, it’s like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall,” said Novak. “You get one company to agree to stop doing the practice, and then another one pops up.”

Authorities were tipped off after receiving more than 100 complaints, Novak said. In this case, more than 18,000 people fell victim to the illegal lending practices. He said it was imperative for anyone who has a questionable loan rate to reach out to his department and speak with an adviser.

The three companies agreed to lower the rate to 6 percent, and to pay $1 million in refunds to customers. Borrowers will still owe their debt.

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