Loan Fraud Inquiry Said to Focus on Used-Car Dealers
Lenders in the housing boom created so-called liar loans, which enabled borrowers, even those with no income or assets, to inflate their income. Government authorities are now taking aim at a new generation of liar loans. Only this time it is subprime auto loans.
Federal and state authorities, a group that includes prosecutors in New York, Alabama and Texas, are zeroing in on the most powerful, and arguably the least regulated, rung of the subprime auto loan chain, used-car dealerships, according to people briefed on the investigations. Already, they have found hundreds of fraudulent loans that together total millions of dollars.
At their center, the people said, the investigations are examining whether dealerships are inflating borrowers’ income or falsifying employment information on loan applications to ensure that anyone, no matter what their credit quality, can buy a car.
Some of the same dynamics — the seemingly insatiable demand for loans as the market heats up and the dwindling pool of qualified borrowers — that helped precipitate the 2008 mortgage crisis are now playing out, albeit on a smaller scale, in the auto loan market. Under pressure to generate more and more loans, salesman at some used-car dealers are suspected of getting inventive.
It is not known how many subprime auto loans have been made on the basis of falsified applications. Still, such loans can corrode confidence in the booming market for securities that are created from bundled subprime auto loans. If loan applications are falsified, leading borrowers to ultimately fall behind on their bills, that could spell trouble for investors, which include insurance companies and public pension funds.
More immediately, such inflated applications can mean that some of the most vulnerable borrowers are saddled with auto loans they can never afford to repay. The loans, which often come with interest rates that soar to 29 percent, can haunt borrowers long after their cars are repossessed, further tarnishing their credit scores and plunging them into bankruptcy.