Gary Coleman, a customer and CashCall pitchman (photo: Jim Cooper, Associated Press)
The headline on the California Attorney General’s press release posted when Governor Jerry Brown ran the office in August 24, 2009, was emphatic: “Brown Forces Predatory Lender to End Illegal and Abusive Debt Collection Practices.”
Three years later, Anaheim-based CashCall, Inc., the consumer finance lender that charges astronomical interest rates for unsecured loans, has given its website a new look but doesn’t appear to have changed its practices much.
The New York State Attorney General sued CashCall and its owner J. Paul Reddam on Monday—along with Western Sky Financial, LLC and WS Funding, LLC—alleging they were making usurious loans and using deceptive practices to collect payments. Reddam, a former teacher of philosophy at California State University, owner of last year’s Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another, and founder of DiTech Funding Corp., which he sold in 1999.
The attorney general said the companies have made at least 17,970 loans in New York worth $38 million since 2010, for which they were now owed $185 million. Annual interest rates ranged as high as 355%. A two-year $1,000 loan would cost the consumer $4,942 in interest and principal.
That interest rate of 234% exceeded the state’s 16% cap on interest rates. New York’s charge of deceptive practices included an allegation that borrowers were incorrectly told New York State law didn’t apply to the companies because Western Sky, which fronted for CashCall, was owned by Martin Webb, a member of the Cheyenne River tribe in South Dakota.
At least nine other states, including Colorado, Illinois, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Oregon, Georgia, Missouri, Maryland, and Washington, and the Federal Trade Commission have taken action against CashCall and/or Western Sky, some very recently.
New York has some of the toughest usury and lending laws in the nation. California does not. The maximum lending rate in California is 10% but there are a lot of exceptions that allow for some interest rates to top 100%.
Jerry Brown’s action against CashCall, which used actor Gary Coleman as its chief advertising pitchman for years until his death in 2010—the work paid off his own loan—was focused mainly on the company’s “loan shark tactics” and deceptive advertising. Brown listed six CashCall practices he said would end.
• “Making excessive and verbally abusive telephone calls at all hours of the day and night;
• “Causing borrowers to incur bank fees by repeatedly trying to collect payments despite knowing there were insufficient funds in the borrowers’ accounts;
• “Threatening to initiate law enforcement and wage garnishment proceedings against borrowers without any basis for doing so;
• “Improperly discussing private financial information with borrowers’ friends, colleagues and neighbors;
• “Failing to honor borrowers’ requests to cancel automatic withdrawals from checking accounts; and
• “Continuing to contact borrowers by phone after receiving requests to only contact them in writing.”
As part of the court order, CashCall paid $1 million in civil penalties and expenses. “Today’s court order puts an end to CashCall’s illegal debt collection practices and stops its misleading advertising,” the attorney general’s press release said.