CHARLESTON - Virginia-based Fast Auto Loans Inc. has been ordered to stop collecting payments, seizing vehicles and entering into new loans with West Virginia residents, according to Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office.
That is, until a hearing on Aug. 24, the attorney general said in a news release Thursday.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge David H. Sanders entered the four-page order July 3.
The order also requires defendants Fast Auto Loans; its parent company, Community Loans of America; and their owner, Robert I. Reich, to produce all records of their loans to state consumers, including records of their marketing activities, to the Attorney General's Office within 30 days.
A lawsuit filed by McGraw's Consumer Protection Division against the defendants prompted the circuit court order.
The suit, filed June 14, sought to prohibit them from "victimizing" state consumers who travel to neighboring Virginia to obtain title loans.
Such loans are made to people who own motor vehicles. The loan is secured by a lien on the borrower's vehicle.
The loans in question charge interest rates of 300 percent Annual Percentage Rate, or APR. Consumers' vehicles are seized when they default on the loans.
These types of loans are not authorized by state law, according to the Attorney General's Office.
"Out-of-state lenders collecting debts in West Virginia will respect the rights of our citizens and the laws of our state or they will face the consequences," McGraw said during a press conference held at his Eastern Panhandle office in Martinsburg last month.
In his lawsuit, the attorney general alleged the defendants engaged in various unlawful debt collection activities and other unfair or deceptive practices, including repeated telephone harassment, disclosure of debts to employers and other third parties, and false threats of arrest or criminal prosecution to force consumers to relinquish possession of their vehicles without a court order.
According to records obtained from the state Division of Motor Vehicles, Fast Auto Loans secured liens on more than 500 loans and most of the West Virginia victims reside in Berkeley, Hampshire, Jefferson, Mercer and McDowell counties, which are close to Fast Auto
Loans' Winchester and Wytheville, Va., branch offices.
For a copy of the order entered by the circuit court, click here.