Dozens of harassing phone calls, unauthorized bank drafts and questionable repossessions – those are just some of the accusations leveled against an enormous local auto financer.
Santander Consumer USA is the most complained about company in Dallas. It says it follows all lending and collection laws; so why are so many consumers angry, frustrated and fighting back? And now the Texas attorney general is also demanding answers.
Consumers say the calls just never seem to stop.
"Fifty times or more. It is terrible," said Leah Wilson.
Even to people who don't do business with them.
"Harassment. This is total harassment," said Juan Santillan.
Europe's biggest bank in now in the United States servicing auto loans. And this mega financer is racking up mega complaints, everything from abusive collection practices to damaging credit, even repossessing cars from active duty military.
"They are just over the top. It is that wild, wild west," said attorney Michael O'Connor.
Amy and Daniel Pool saw their dreams shatter when they tried to buy a new home.
"He says we can't get a loan," said Amy Pool.
The Pool's credit had dropped so low they couldn't qualify.
"It scared us because we thought our identity had been stolen," said Amy Pool.
The couple had never heard of Santander.
Turns out Daniel Pool had a company truck back in 2001, financed through Triad. In a lawsuit, the Pools say when Daniel's employer shut down he returned the truck and it was repossessed. Ten years later it popped up on his credit report.
According to federal law there is a seven year limit, so the Pools called Santander, the company that purchased Triad.
"What I am going to do is notate the file account. The statute of limitations has expired. What they are going to do, as far as when you call the credit bureau dispute line, they are going to contact Santander's credit bureau department directly and update it right then and there," said a Santander account manager on the phone.
But the Pools said it didn't happen. They disputed the report with Experian. It was verified by Santander. Their credit report showed the information would stay until 2014.
"It has been a nightmare," said Amy Pool.
The Pools are suing both Experian and Santander. Both companies have denied the allegations. The Pool's attorney said the bad credit report just came out of the blue.
"Not only is it a bomb, it is a recent bomb," said attorney Dennis McCarty. "It looks like you just went default last year. This car was given back in 2001, not 2010."
Juan Santillan also sued Santander claiming he never even had an account with the company, his daughter's boyfriend did. But he said that did not stop them from calling him over and over again.
"They need to be taught a lesson to respect people's rights," Santillan said.
He said he told them it was not his debt.
"I told them that. They would not hear any of it," Santillan said. "They just wanted results. They just want the money."
Texas law states a debt collector cannot harass or abuse a person by making repeated or continuous calls with the intent to harass. Santander denied wrongdoing but settled with Santillan for undisclosed terms.
Santander Consumer USA is a giant in the auto financing arena. Its website says the company has portfolios totaling more than $14 billion. It is headquartered in Dallas and started originating loans in 1997. As the company has grown so have the complaints.
At the Better Business Bureau, the website shows 1,700 complaints filed in the past 12 months. That makes Santander the most complained about company in Dallas. The bureau gives Santander a C+ rating.
There are still 90 complaints unresolved, which means the customer was not satisfied with the business response and the bureau found Santander did not make a good faith effort to resolve the complaint.
At the Texas attorney general's office, almost 600 complaints have been filed in the past two years.
There is also a class action suit out of Alabama accusing the company of unlawful harassment and collection methods. Santander has asked the court to dismiss that case saying it must be resolved through arbitration.
O'Connor filed eight lawsuits against Santander just last month accusing the company of violating consumer protection law.
"They come from Europe. They come over here and they just engage in these tactics that are over the top," O'Connor said. Santander said it will respond to all eight cases vigorously defending itself.
"It's terrible," Leah Wilson said. "You are about to lose everything you have worked so hard to keep."
Wilson admitted she stopped making her payments on her Envoy when she lost her job. She told Santander to come and get the car but no one did. She is still driving it. She is suing Santander claiming the company not only harassed her but her terminally ill aunt after being told to stop. Santander denies any liability.
"They called every day, all the time," Wilson said.
Santander declined an interview with FOX 4 but sent a statement saying:
The company is "committed to meeting the highest standards of legal compliance"... "We follow all applicable consumer lending and collection laws and track, research and review every customer complaint that is registered by our customers through our service channels."
The Pools finally got their credit mess cleaned up after they filed their lawsuit. They lost out on their dream home and are now moving forward with their lawsuit.
"If you are going to come to this country, you have to abide by U.S. law," Daniel Pool said. "They will continue to do this to consumers until we stand up and say no more."
Santander said it serves approximately 2.9 million customers. Substantiated complaints occur in less than 0.01% of the company's interactions. The company said it works hard to address and correct mistakes when they occur.
The Texas attorney general is now stepping in. It sent Santander a Civil Investigative Demand , seeking information about the company's collection policies and procedures along with complaints and lawsuits filed.
Santander did not comment to us about the attorney general's action.
KDFW FOX 4
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