On August 7, the Division of Banks of the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (Division) announced it had entered into consent orders with several motor vehicle sales finance companies to address allegations of unlicensed and illegal auto lending practices uncovered during an investigation of approximately 200 car dealerships. According to a press release issued by the Division, the investigation resulted in “five enforcement actions, 135 cease directives, $170,000 in fines and penalties, and more than $200,000 in consumer reimbursements.” Violations include, among others, (i) pricing vehicles far above blue book value; (ii) charging interest rates that approach or are at, or exceed the state’s maximum level, which is set at 21 percent, including interest rate violations occurring as a result of the financing of debt cancellation (GAP) coverage premiums; (iii) assessing interest and/or late fees after repossession of a vehicle “on which a repossession of the collateral has been executed”; and (iv) failure to obtain a motor vehicle sales finance company license through the Division, failure to address license renewal application deficiencies, or operating without a valid license. According to one consent order, the company allegedly failed to provide consumers an opportunity to “cure a default” before using starter interrupt devices to shut down their cars. A different consent order ordered the company to identify borrowers for whom their finance charges were calculated incorrectly, or those who overpaid due to a total loss insurance claim, and reimburse borrowers the amount that was overcharged or overpaid. A third consent order was issued to a California-based auto lender who purchased finance contracts from Massachusetts auto dealers without being licensed through the Division and engaged in several of the aforementioned violations.
None of the companies entering into the consent orders admitted to any of the allegations or the existence of any violation of state or federal law concerning their operations as motor vehicle sales finance companies.