For years, a South Carolina lender “humiliated and harassed” customers by directing its employees to approach them at their homes, jobs or even at grocery stores to collect on debts, according to a government settlement announced Wednesday.
Between 2011 and 2016, Security Group either attempted or completed these in-person collection visits more than 12 million times, targeting 1.3 million customers, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some consumers were threatened with jail, shoved or “physically blocked” from leaving private property, according to a consent order.
Security Group, which offers short-term, high-cost loans, agreed to a relatively small fine, $5 million. But it denied any wrongdoing.
“We are agreeing to this settlement to close the matter and move forward in serving our customers in the fast, friendly, socially responsible manner that has been our tradition since my father founded Security in 1955,” chief executive and board chair Susan Bridges said in a statement.
This is just the second enforcement action taken by Mick Mulvaney, who was appointed the CFPB’s acting director by President Trump in November. In April, the watchdog agency fined Wells Fargo $1 billion for improperly charging customers for auto insurance they didn’t need and for improperly charging them to lock in mortgage rates.
Security Group has about 900 locations across more than a dozen states, including Florida, Texas and Virginia. It also uses several names, such as Friendly Finance, Money Finance and Patriot Loan Co., according to the consent order.
The consent order said Security Group’s actions “caused or were likely to cause consumers substantial injury, including humiliation, inconvenience, and reputation damage ranging from unwanted attention to disclosure of their delinquent debt to disciplinary action and other negative employment consequences.”
Security Group’s employees would regularly approach customers in places where the conversations could be overheard, the CFPB said. For example, consumers were approached at the drive-through window at a fast-food restaurant or in line at a big-box retailer, according to the consent degree. Security Group even handed out “field cards to third parties, including consumers’ young children,” the decree said.
The CFPB also found “systemic and pervasive” problems with how Security Group handled the information it submitted about consumers to the credit bureaus, which could have hurt their credit scores. Security Group was “often slow” to correct information it submitted, taking more than a year in some cases. These problems “affected tens of thousands of consumers,” the CFPB said.
Security Group disputes the CFPB’s allegations. “Security has a strong culture of compliance. It takes seriously its obligations under the law,” Bridges said.