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Two Tampa residents sue Miami auto lending firm for alleging deceptive practices

Two Tampa residents are suing an auto lending company that they say tricked them into a much longer loan than advertised and tacked on $36,000 to the loan through a confusing debt cancellation product.

According to the suit, Teri and Robin Fanning went through a site called EzLoanLookup.com to get a title loan against a car they owned. A business opportunity had come up that they wanted to invest in, and they believed a 30-day title loan would be their best option to get cash on hand. The site, which advertises itself as "the nation's largest car title loan network," referred them to a Miami-based company called Marlin Financial Inc.

The Fannings, the lawsuit said, eventually agreed to what they believed were two title loans for their two cars, totaling about $24,500, from Marlin. Part of the agreement was that they purchase two debt cancellation products for $36,000 total.

According to the complaint, the Fannings believed that the debt cancellation would act as insurance that covered $36,000 if they were unable to pay back the loans, and that they would be able to cancel it and get some of the cost back. If they didn't buy it, the complaint said, they were led to believe that there would be "an indeterminate delay" before their loans were available.

But the Fannings say the $36,000 was added to their $24,500 loan total. And it was not cancelable. When the two tried to refinance their loans and offer their $90,000 boat as collateral, Marlin would not allow it, the lawsuit said. Then, Marlin said their loans went into default.

The Fannings later realized, the suit said, that the loans were not 30-day title loans, but 24-month loans unrelated to the cars' titles. Marlin is not currently registered with the Florida Office of Financial Regulation as a title loan lender, but as a consumer finance company. The lawsuit further claims that Marlin Financial is owned and operated by Peter Pocrnich, who owns EzLoanLookup.com. The Fannings are seeking damages.

Allison Friedman, Marlin's lawyer, said the complaint is "inflammatory."

"From the moment that Ms. Fanning defaulted under the contract, they have threatened Marlin that they would disparage Marlin publicly and in social media rather than comply with the terms of the contract," Friedman said in an interview Tuesday.

This isn't the first time Pochrnich has been accused of offering title loans without proper licensing. In 2011, California's Business Transportation and Housing Agency issued a desist and refrain order to Pocrnich's EzLoanLookup.

"It's clear from a review of the site that it is in the business of offering car title loans to the public," the order said.

Despite offering title loans, the order said, seven title loan companies he operated in the state were not licensed as financial lenders. Pocrnich and his companies were ordered to stop their business in California until they obtained proper licensing. According to EzLoanLookup's site, the company no longer does business in California "due to state regulations."

Marlin most recently filed to move the case to arbitration.

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

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