A title-pawn company with offices in Macon and Dublin will pay more than $200,000 to settle complaints that it misled and intimidated customers.
The state attorney general's office says First American Title Lending of Georgia agreed to pay back more than $196,000 to customers and return titles.
They also agreed to stop deceptive practices, like threatening customers with arrest warrants, according to the state.
Title-pawn companies offer short-term high interest loans, in which the borrower offers their car title as collateral.
If the customer defaults on their loan, the company requires them to turn their car over or repossess it.
But the state claims that First Americans broke state law with "false claims and illegal actions."
That includes threatening customers with arrest warrants, according to the attorney general's office. The company has no authority to issue warrants, the state says.
First American also sued some of its defaulting customers for outstanding principal, interest and fees. That's not allowed in pawn transactions, the state says.
The company also violated state law by not using the words "pawn" or "pawn transactions" in its advertisements.
"You have rights if you owe money," says Kelvin Collins with the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia. "A debt collector cannot harass you, they cannot throw you in jail."
According to the state, First American also agreed to:
-- Dismiss any illegal lawsuits against customers and set aside any judgments already entered in those cases.
-- Pay $25,000 in penalties and fees.
- Clearly tell borrowers that they offer "pawn transactions," not "loans."
-- Stop any deceptive practices, like threatening customers with arrest warrants.
"Intimidation is not something that consumers have to accept and there are laws that protect them and they just have to report them," says Collins.
If the company violates its agreement before January 2020, the state says, it will have to pay an additional $65,000.
According to its website, First American was founded in Chattanooga in 2007 and has 30 locations in Georgia. They include offices on Mercer University Drive in Macon and Veterans Boulevard in Dublin.
13WMAZ called First American's headquarters in Chattanooga and left a message. The company did not return our call.
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