On December 16, the CFPB announced a civil lawsuit against a California-based online loan servicer and its owner, subsidiary, and affiliate for allegedly violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act by collecting money consumers did not owe. This is the first CFPB enforcement action to target online lending directly and, according to the CFPB, represents “a significant step in the Bureau’s efforts to address regulatory-evasion schemes that are increasingly becoming a feature of the online small-dollar and payday lending industry.”

The subject loans were acquired from an online payday lender that recently shut down its operations after commencement of investigations and court actions across several states. According to the complaint, the defendants violated licensing requirements and interest-rate caps in several states that rendered certain high-cost loans void or otherwise nullified but nonetheless continued to collect money from borrowers. The complaint states that the defendants’ engaged in unfair and deceptive practices by sending collection notices, debiting accounts, and demanding payments related to such loans without disclosing that the borrowers were not obligated to pay the amounts under state law. The complaint also alleges that the defendants’ actions were abusive because they took unreasonable advantage of consumers’ lack of understanding of applicable state laws.

The CFPB action parallels actions taken by several other state attorneys general on the same day.