Greater Victoria customers may be among those receiving payday loan fee refunds

The Cash Store and Instaloans ordered to return $1 million on transactions as far back as 2009

Nearly $1 million in illegal payday loan fees will be returned to consumers in the coming months, thanks to a long-fought legal battle by the province’s consumer protection agency.

Edmonton-based Cash Store Financial Inc., which has The Cash Store and Instaloans branches in Victoria, Esquimalt, Saanich and Colwood, was the focus of a Consumer Protection B.C. investigation in 2010.

The inquiry revealed customers were being billed more than the allowed maximum of $23 per $100 borrowed on cash cards, a finding the company disputed.

Consumer Protection B.C. took the unprecedented step on Nov. 30 of issuing a supplemental compliance order to force Cash Store to pay back customers.

“In all other cases, we achieved voluntary compliance,” said Manjit Bains, Consumer Protection B.C.’s vice-president of corporate relations. “With Cash Store, they chose not to comply with the law.”

The refund process began Tuesday and will be overseen by an independent auditor and Consumer Protection B.C. officials.

Anyone who used The Cash Store or Instaloans between Nov. 1, 2009 and March 23, 2012 may be eligible for a refund. Nearly 68,000 transactions and $1 million should be refunded beginning in Feb. 2013, Bains estimated.

“We remain optimistic that (Cash Store) will reimburse consumers. We’ve also put in controls to ensure consumers are receiving accurate and timely refunds.”

The onus lies with Cash Store to contact its customers and make them aware of the refund process, she said.

Any funds that remain unclaimed, after all efforts to reach eligible consumers are exhausted, are held by Consumer Protection B.C. for a further six years, during which time claims for refunds can be submitted directly to the agency.

A website that outlines the rights of consumers who use payday loan services is available at paydayloansrights.bc.ca.

Bains said while the payday loan industry provides a wanted service, consumers need to educate themselves on any potential breaches of the law.

“Just being very cautious on any opportunities where something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she said. “You’re getting your money quickly, but it can be at great cost.”

– with files from Erin McCracken

dpalmer@vicnews.com