WASHINGTON — Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) took its first action against a buy-here, pay-here (BHPH) dealer. DriveTime Automotive Group was ordered to pay an $8 million civil penalty as well as end its unfair debt collection tactics, fix its credit reporting practices, and arrange for harmed consumers to obtain free credit reports.
“Consumers who purchase a car at a buy-here, pay-here dealer deserve to be treated fairly,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a statement. “DriveTime harassed and harmed countless consumers, many of whom were economically vulnerable. Our action today forces DriveTime to pay the price for its illegal debt collection tactics and for neglecting the accuracy of consumers’ credit information.”
Arizona-based DriveTime and its finance company, DT Acceptance Corporation, make up the largest BHPH dealer in the nation. DriveTime’s average customer has an annual income of $37,000 to $50,000 and has a FICO score between 461 and 554. It operates 117 dealerships in 20 states and, as of Dec. 31, 2013, held more than 150,000 outstanding auto installment contracts.
According to the CFPB, at least 45% of DriveTime’s auto installment contracts were delinquent at a given time. When a consumer fell behind on his or her installment payment, one of DriveTime’s 290 collection employees in two domestic call centers and 80 contractors in Barbados would begin calling the consumer — resulting in tens of thousands of collection calls being made each weekday. At the end of 2013, DriveTime had approximately 69,000 installment contracts past due that these employees would have been calling about.
The CFPB determined that several of DriveTime’s debt collection practices were unfair to consumers and violated the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act). According to the bureau, DriveTime employees harassed borrowers at work, a practice that was encouraged by DriveTime management. In one case, a consumer was called 30 times at work, even after making a do-not-call request.
DriveTime also requires consumers to provide the names and phone numbers of at least four references when they applied for financing. When consumers fell behind on their payments, DriveTime called these references excessively. The dealer group also used third-party databases to find the phone number of consumers who fell behind in payments, often resulting in frequent phone calls to wrong numbers.
The CFPB also found that DriveTime gave credit reporting agencies information that inaccurately reflected the timing of repossessions and dates of first delinquencies — a practice which is prohibited by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA). .
The bureau also said DriveTime mishandled consumers’ complaints about the inaccurate information it had provided to the credit reporting agencies. In several instances, consumers disputed the same account information several times without the inaccurate information being corrected. In other cases, DriveTime informed consumers in writing that the information had been corrected, when it had not been — a violation of the FCRA.
Additionally, the bureau charged DriveTime with failing to establish and implement reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of the information it furnished to credit reporting agencies.