FCA bans four directors of online broker for misleading customers

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has banned David James Carter Mullins, Edward John Booth, Christopher Paul Brotherton and Mark Robert Kennedy, former directors and shareholders of the dissolved Secure My Money (SMM) online consumer credit broker.

The regulator revealed that the firm took fees of over £7.2m from approximately 124,000 online customers by fooling them into believing they had been approved for short-term loans.

FCA executive director of enforcement and market oversight Mark Steward said: “These four individuals consistently misled vulnerable customers into paying money for worthless services and into believing SMM had found them a loan, in addition to selling on their data. They showed complete disregard for the consequences of their actions. We have taken the strongest action possible to prevent them from working in financial services again.”

The authority revealed that between November 2013 and July 2014 all four directors had lacked honesty and integrity as they had deliberately misled often vulnerable customers, with regards to fees and services provided through their web-based brands i-loansdirect, LoanZoo and the1loan.

Consumers that were searching for online loans were informed on arrival of the website that they had been ‘approved’ and shown details of a sample loan, before being asked to provide their card details to ‘verify their account’.

However, customers had not been pre-approved for a loan and there was no such account verification, instead their cards were charged between £39 and £69. Many of the firm’s customers were unaware that the fee would be taken.

The FCA took over regulation of consumer credit firms in April 2014, and in May 2014 the FCA asked SMM to take down the websites. SMM then disabled the websites, but all four directors knew that many of its customers arrived on their sites via other webpages, and that those pages were still live and so the company could continue taking fees from new customers.

SMM then started charging customers a further monthly fee of £4.99 for continued access to membership areas, with Mr Kennedy then arranging for the fee to be backdated to March 2014 to increase revenue, despite knowing that doing so was outside customer terms and conditions.

The bans imposed by the authority are the strongest sanction available in this case, due to the conduct taking place before the FCA had the power to fine individuals at consumer credit firms.

SMM went into liquidation on 31 July 2014. Approximately £1.4m was repaid by SMM as a result of customers either requesting chargebacks from card providers or making refund requests direct to the firm, and a further £33,564.17 was paid out after SMM’s liquidation.

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