By PHILLIP LUCAS, Associated Press
State Attorney General Sam Olens has filed a lawsuit against two companies saying they’ve been using the Internet to provide illegal payday loans to Georgia consumers.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in Fulton County Superior Court, Olens accuses South Dakota-based Western Sky Financial, the company’s owner Martin Webb and California-based Cash Call Inc. of violating a state law prohibiting lenders from offering payday loans over the Internet.
A lawyer representing Western Sky said in a May 2012 letter to the Attorney General’s office that the company would stop offering loans in Georgia, Olens’ spokeswoman Lauren Kane said in a statement.
Western Sky continued offering loans in Georgia and consumers reported abusive collections practices to the Attorney General’s office and to the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection, Olens said.
“At that point, you need to have the courts involved and for the judge to require compliance with our law,” Olens said, adding he suspects other companies may be engaged in similar practices in the state. “I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones we keep getting complaints about.”
Olens said Monday that his office receives between three and five phone calls a week about the two companies and consumers have reported being threatened by the lenders with wage garnishment and legal action. Consumers have also reported that the lenders continue withdrawing money from their bank accounts even if they were able to pay off the principal loan balance, according to the lawsuit.
A call to the attorney who wrote on Western Sky’s behalf wasn’t returned Monday. Representatives from Cash Call could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit. Loans being offered by Cash Call are financed by Western Sky, Georgia Attorney General’s officials said in the lawsuit.
Western Sky is unable to offer loans in 21 states including South Dakota — where they’re based — according to the company’s website. Printouts dated July 3, 2013 of the company’s webpage that were submitted as evidence show that Georgia was not included in a list of 18 states where loans couldn’t be offered. As of July 29, Georgia had been added to the list, along with Kansas and Nevada.
Attorney General’s officials said Western Sky claims the company is owned by a tribunal member of the Cheyenne River Sioux, which renders it immune from outside prosecution. The immunity claim has been disputed in several courts and Georgia Assistant Attorney General Amy Burns brought up an April 2012 decision by a Colorado court to reject the company’s tribunal immunity argument in a letter to Western Sky’s lawyer again asking that the company stop offering loans to Georgia consumers.
Neither Western Sky nor Cash Call is licensed to do business in Georgia, and lenders wishing to offer loans of $3,000 or less must obtain a license from the state Insurance Commissioner, Olens said. He added that Georgia law caps payday loan interest rates at 10 percent and in some cases, loan recipients have been charged up to 340 percent interest on their principal balance.
The lawsuit asks for the companies to stop doing business and advertising in the state, to render all pending loans null and void and to stop collecting payments from Georgians with outstanding balances.
The suit also seeks civil penalties of three times the amount of interest that was charged to Georgia loan recipients and legal fees, Olens said.