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Wonga’s bent for straight-talking money

[5 July 2014] Payday-lending company Wonga sent debt-chasing letters to 45,000 customers using fake law firms, says the Financial Conduct Authority. The regulator has ordered it to pay £2.6million compensation. Criminal charges may follow.

From 2008 to 2010, Wonga staff used the names of their fellow employees to construct non-existent debt-recovery firms like ‘Chainey, d’Amato & Shannon’. They put pressure on customers to pay up or face court action. In some cases Wonga added extra charges to cover the cost of the letters from the fake firms.

Wonga is well known for charging an annual percentage rate of nearly 6,000% for short-term loans. It also professes plain-language credentials with the slogan: ‘Straight talking money’, used in thousands of TV commercials and newspaper adverts. The slogan’s fate is now unclear. Wonga could opt for something genuinely straight talking, like ‘dubious deceitful dealing’.

In a style familiar to students of similar PR disasters, Wonga has tried to offload the blame for its actions. It says none of the guilty staff are still working for the company. As if their conduct occurred in the early 1900s, Wonga now speaks of ‘historic debt collection letters’ and ‘historical debt collection activity’. And it dredges up that well-worn phrase, ‘lessons have been learnt’.

For chutzpah, it would be hard to beat a Wonga spokesman’s comment that being penalized by the FCA ‘is not our proudest day’, implying that a normal sundown at Wonga HQ finds employees basking in accolades from grateful clients.

Wonga, which was founded in 2007 and whose name adorns the shirts of Newcastle United FC, could yet face criminal prosecution under the Fraud Act for making false representations; under the Theft Act for blackmail; and under the Solicitors Act for implying the fake firms were solicitors. [cont]

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