The regulator found that all four lacked honesty and integrity as “they had deliberately misled often vulnerable customers in relation to fees and services”.
Their acts began in November 2013 before the FCA took over regulation of the market in April 2014, but continued past this by falsely telling the regulator they had ceased operating.
David James Carter Mullins, Edward John Booth, Christopher Paul Brotherton and Mark Robert Kennedy were the former directors and shareholders of Secure My Money Limited, which has since been dissolved.
They offered loans through web-based brands i-loansdirect, LoanZoo and the1loan.
Customers were told they had been approved for a loan on arriving at the websites, shown details of a sample loan and asked to enter their payment card details in order to ‘verify their account’.
However, customers were not pre-approved for a loan and there was no such account verification, instead their cards were charged between £39 and £69 with many unaware a fee would be charged.
No lender contacts
The sites’ membership areas then purported to provide a list of pre-approved loan offers but in reality, Secure My Money (SMM) had no contact or arrangements with any lenders.
Customers were presented with a standard, untailored list of web links primarily to lender website homepages.
In May 2014 the FCA asked SMM to take down the websites but SMM only disabled the homepages. The FCA noted that all four directors knew the majority of customers arrived on the sites via other pages, that those pages were still live and that SMM was still taking fees from new customers.
Later that month the firm started charging £4.99 per month for access to the members area and then back-dated this charge for two months – outside customer terms and conditions.
Mullins also arranged for customers clicking on lender icons in the membership areas instead to be redirected to other fee-charging credit broker websites.
Finally, the sale of customers’ personal data to third parties led to some customers receiving multiple marketing calls or texts, and in some instances to customers being charged by more than one credit broker.
SMM went into liquidation on 31 July 2014 with only around £1.4m repaid by SMM as a result of customers either requesting chargebacks from card providers or making refund requests direct to the firm. A further £33,564.17 was paid out after SMM’s liquidation.
The FCA’s bans remain in place for life or for as long as necessary for consumer protection and are the strongest available as the conduct took place before the FCA had the power to fine individuals at consumer credit firms.
The Insolvency Service, with assistance from the FCA, also disqualified all four individuals as directors last year for periods of between 5-8 years.
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,” he added.