On Tuesday, Aug. 16, Attorney General Shapiro announced that he’s leading a multistate lawsuit against Mariner Finance for widespread violations of multiple consumer protection laws. The suit alleges that Mariner Finance charged consumers for hidden add-on products that consumers either didn’t know about or didn’t agree to buy.
Consumers left Mariner Finance believing they had entered into an agreement to borrow and repay, over time, a certain amount of money. In reality, because of these hidden add-on products, Mariner added hundreds to thousands of dollars to the total amount a consumer owed. Mariner charged Pennsylvanians $19.5 million for add-ons from 2015 to 2018 and charged another $8 million in interest for these premiums in the same period.
“Mariner Finance padded its bottom line by deceiving hard-working Pennsylvanians,” said AG Shapiro. “Products consumers never asked for and often didn’t realize they’d been signed up for were tacked on to a kind of loan that we already know people struggle to pay back. These tactics are predatory and any business we find engaging in them will have to answer to my office in court.”
The lawsuit alleges that Mariner Finance employees either don’t mention the add-on products to consumers or blatantly misrepresent them. Mariner Finance employees also claim the products are required in order to obtain a loan when technically no such requirements exist. Some consumers were told by Mariner Finance that add-ons were free or much cheaper than they actually were, while other consumers who explicitly rejected the add-on products were charged for them anyway.
The lawsuit also alleges that Mariner Finance engages in illegal, aggressive sales tactics to extend credit to new borrowers. Mariner’s marketing heavily features the fact that consumers can visit a Mariner Financial branch and leave with a check on the same day. Mariner mails hundreds of thousands of unsolicited “live checks” to consumers.
Once consumers cash these checks, Mariner aggressively pushes them to visit a branch to refinance and take out additional debt, which typically comes with hidden add-on products, even if it’s not in the best interest of the consumer. These kinds of predatory sales practices can lead consumers into a cycle of debt that’s hard to overcome.
One Harrisburg consumer told the Attorney General’s office that a Mariner employee took her to a small room with a computer that had loan documents on it. She said, “it wasn’t until I got home that I realized my monthly payment was really high. I looked through my paperwork and realized I’d been charged for three forms of insurance I didn’t want.”
Mariner Finance is owned by a Wall Street private equity fund managed by Warburg Pincus LLC. When Warburg Pincus bought Mariner Finance, it had 57 branches in seven states. Today, just nine years later, Mariner Finance has over 480 branches in 27 states and manages over $2 billion in loans.