FTC Loses Motion in Unfair Billing Case Against Online Payday Loan Referral Service

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On November 7, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida held that numerous factual issues prevented the court from granting summary judgment on the FTC’s claims that an online payday loan referral business engaged in unfair and deceptive billing practices and failed to provide adequate disclosures. FTC v. Direct Benefits Group, LLC, No 11-1186, 2012 WL 5430989 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 7, 2012). The FTC alleges that the defendants violated the FTC Act by obtaining consumers’ bank account information through payday loan referral websites and debiting their accounts without their consent. The FTC also alleges that the defendants failed to adequately disclose that, in addition to using consumers’ financial information for a payday loan application, they would use it to charge them for enrollments in unrelated programs and services. Although it acknowledged that the FTC had presented substantial evidence regarding consumer complaints about the defendants’ activities, the court held that because the defendants maintain that no consumer could be enrolled in the programs without at least clicking an “okay” button on the defendants’ websites, the FTC was not entitled to summary judgment. A bench trial is scheduled for November 27, 2012, during which the parties will present additional evidence and arguments regarding the content and operation of the websites and whether consumers could enroll in the referral programs without taking affirmative steps to do so.

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