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[June 28, 2014]
Payday lender Wonga could still face police investigation [Western Morning News (England)]
(Western Morning News (England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Police are to look again at whether payday lender Wonga should face a criminal investigation after it sent fake legal letters to pressure customers in arrears into paying up.
City of London Police discussed the case a year ago but it was previously decided that it should be left to regulators so the 45,000 consumers affected would not be delayed in receiving compensation.
But it said that now that the Financial Conduct Authority's investigations have concluded and a compensation agreement has been reached, it will "be reassessing whether a criminal investigation is now appropriate".
Earlier this week, Wonga said it had agreed with the regulator to pay Pounds 2.6 million in compensation for the letters it sent from non-existent law fir ms.
City of London Police said in a statement: "In March 2013 the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) met with the City of London Police to consider their (OFT's) investigation into Wonga and whether it should be referred to the National Policing Lead for Fraud.
"Now that the regulator's investigation has concluded and a compensation agreement has been reached with Wonga, the City of London Police will be reassessing whether a criminal investigation is now appropriate." The Law Society has already stepped up pressure for a criminal investigation to be held into Wonga. The society, which represents around 160,000 solicitors across England and Wales, said it has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate Wonga and consider whether any offences, such as blackmail or those under the Solicitors Act, have been committed.
It has also called on City regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to hand over copies of its investigation. The FCA confirmed it had been contacted by the society but declined to comment further.
The case, which consumer campaigners described as a "shocking new low'' for the payday industry, saw Wonga add charges to some customers' accounts to cover administration fees for sending the letters, from fictitious firms Chainey, D'Amato & Shannon and Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries. The FCA could not impose a fine on Wonga for what it described as "unfair and misleading" debt collection practices, which happened between October 2008 and November 2010, because the failings were uncovered by a previous regulatory regime and it does not have powers to issue retrospective penalties.
Wonga has apologised "unreservedly" and said the "few" people who were directly involved with sending the letters are no longer in the business.
A spokesman for Wonga said that its focus is on compensating customers who received the "unacceptable" debt collection letters.
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