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Under scrutiny, online auto lender Marlin Financial stops making new loans

Marlin Financial, an online auto lender at the center of a Florida Attorney General investigation, is no longer taking new loans. Pictured is its website Oct. 2. | [Marlin Financial website screenshot, 2018]
Published Oct. 3, 2018

Marlin Financial has stopped taking new customers as state investigators scrutinize its business practices.

The online auto lender at the center of a Florida Attorney General investigation has a note on its website that it is "no longer accepting new loan applications" as of the end of September.

The company offered no further explanation and did not elaborate after the Tampa Bay Times contacted its attorney on Tuesday.

A Times investigation published Sept. 14 revealed that Marlin's loan practices apparently broke the law as it stuck consumers with much more debt than expected, charged interest rates above state limits and deprived some customers of access to items in their repossessed cars.

Read the investigation: Customers say Marlin Financial's auto loans are deceptive. Now the state is investigating

"We need to send a clear message that if you abuse consumers, you will be held accountable," U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, said Tuesday in a statement to the Times regarding Marlin's halt.

"A (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) investigation into Marlin Financial will shine an even brighter light on deceptive practices, protecting the people from fraud, and making victims whole again," he said.

Last week, Crist called for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look into Marlin following the Times' investigation. In a letter to the bureau's director, Mick Mulvaney, Crist said he was "disturbed" by the findings of the Times' report, and urged Mulvaney to investigate further for violations under federal law.

Previous coverage: Rep. Charlie Crist urges federal consumer watchdog to investigate Marlin Financial

Marlin is still an active company in Florida business records, and still has an active consumer finance company license with the Florida Office of Financial Regulation.

What's unclear is how current Marlin borrowers are affected now that the company is no longer taking on new business. Reached by phone Tuesday, Marlin's lawyer Allison Friedman said she did not know and did not respond to a request for comment.

Christina Bubel of Riverviewfiled a lawsuit in Hillsborough Circuit Court in May against Marlin Financial after taking out multiple loans with the company. Marlin's recent move has not affected her case yet, she said, but she is optimistic about the potential outcome.

"I feel a sense of accomplishment that they're not going to be able to hurt anyone else," she said.

Another question is what would happen to any liens Marlin has against borrowers cars if the firm decides to close up shop completely. Lynn Drysdale, lawyer at Jacksonville Legal Aid, said it's possible the liens could be transferred to a sister company, or done away with by court order if Marlin ceased all operations in the state.

Marlin currently has at least one sister company in Florida: Approved Financial. The firm, which advertises its car title loans online, is an active corporation in Florida and lists the same president — Jeremy Tolan — and office building as Marlin Financial in business records. It has no lending license with the state.

MORE: Get more business news here

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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