Valley woman says title loan company cashed check, wouldn't release title

PHOENIX - It’s such a great feeling to finally pay off a debt. A feeling Phoenix resident, Erica Scott, says she didn’t get much time to enjoy.

“They were saying it was an accidental payment,” she says.

In January 2016 Scott was in a financial bind, deciding to take out a $5000 title loan.

“I was trying to be an adult, take care of it on my own,” she says.

Because it had such a high interest rate—119 percent —she had planned to pay it off in three months.
She wasn’t able to do it. Coming up on the year mark, she was still paying close to $500 per month with no end in sight.

“I'd have to finance it with the title company and I didn't want to do that because I had already paid double the amount,” she says.

Scott decided to ask for help from family. So she says her mother arranged a balance transfer to pay her account in full. Scott says an employee approved the balance transfer, “as long as it was a check.”  So her mother had the bank mail a balance transfer check directly to Maximum Title Loans.

“She (the employee) contacted me and said that my check had been cleared--my check had been cashed--and I had an overpayment of around $300 that they were going to issue back to me and they wanted to know where to mail the title,” Scott says.

That was in January 2017. Erica says she has been waiting ever since.

“I contacted my contact there and she had informed me that the owner said they did not approve of the payment that I had made because it wasn't on my contract,” Scott says.

Since she says the check had been cashed, she asked for the money or her check back.

“The owner said no,” she says.

So what was she supposed to do?

According to an email from Maximum Title Loans her options were to dispute the check, get a written guarantee from the bank that the check would not be disputed in the future or pay again with a cashier’s check or cash.

They’ve had the money since January, yet the company wouldn’t return it or the title.

“It doesn't make sense,” she says.

So Erica let me know.

Maximum Title Loans tells me “we had reason to believe that this check was invalid and made multiple requests verbally and via email to verify the authenticity, which Ms. Scott refused to cooperate.”

We put Erica in touch with the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions, the agency that regulates lenders the state. In it’s response to her complaint the company said the name on the check “did not match any current customer” and that Erica refused to “provide a legitimate method of payment.”

But at the end of the letter the company finally agreed to apply the payment to her account and “immediately release her title since the time to dispute the check had long passed.

In June 2017—nearly six months after paying off her loan--Erica finally received her car title. And while the company tells me her overpayment refund was “mailed when the title was released,” Erica says she hasn’t seen it.

She hopes there won’t be a next time, but if there is Erica says she will avoid taking out a title loan.

“I would go to family…as much as you don’t want to,” she says.

The Arizona Department of Financial Institutions regulates and investigates complaints involving companies that lend money in Arizona. That includes industries like title loans, banking, mortgage, and car loans. Find out how to file a complaint here.

 

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