‘Less Miserable’ parody video showcases S.F. City Attorney’s Check ‘n Go refund drive

Viral video strategy pays homage to Oscar(r)-nominated film, hopes to reach California borrowers eligible for restitution of up to $4.3 million

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Feb. 20, 2013)-A viral video parody of the trailer for the Oscar(r)-nominated film “Les Misérables” premiered at a film industry screening theater here today, representing the latest tactic in an innovative social media campaign to identify and educate online Check ‘n Go borrowers who may be entitled to significant refunds for interest, fees and finance charges.

The three-month outreach program is among the settlement terms San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera negotiated to resolve his consumer protection lawsuit against Cincinnati-based payday lender Check ‘n Go, which agreed to commit up to $4.3 million in restitution to California borrowers who obtained online loans between Nov. 2006 and June 2008. Next week, the outreach program enters its final 30-days for eligible borrowers to mail their claims for refunds before the March 28 deadline. Refunds are expected to range from under $100 to more than $4,600 for eligible claimants.

The parody video produced by Herrera’s office is entitled “Less Miserable,” and is available online at: https://www.youtube.com/sfcityattorney.

It draws parallels between travails of the 19th Century French working class famously depicted in the original novel, stage and film versions of “Les Misérables” with modern day financial challenges like unexpected medical bills and auto repairs, which can force today’s consumers to turn to online and storefront lenders with exorbitant (and even illegal) interest rates. The indignities and injustices of post-revolutionary France are updated to reflect contemporary predatory lending practices, and iconic “Les Misérables” characters like Fantine, Cosette, Marius and Jean Valjean find their 21st Century counterparts as consumers whom cruel fate has pushed into crushing debt. Redemption-the dominant theme of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel and its subsequent adaptations-is offered in the form of a web address: www.caloanrefund.org. There, Check ‘n Go borrowers can watch and share the online parody video, learn more about their eligibility for refunds, download claim forms, and get instructions to file claims in advance of the March 28 deadline.

Herrera hopes that refunds resulting from his lawsuit and subsequent outreach program will allow eligible claimants to be “Less Miserable.”

“We’re taking a creative approach to spread the word through social media channels like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter,” said Herrera. “Because Check ‘n Go’s online loans were the subject of my lawsuit, it makes sense for us to focus our outreach to potential beneficiaries online, too. Check ‘n Go agreed to commit $4.3 million in refunds for eligible borrowers, and we’re working hard to maximize restitution for all the Californians who deserve it. We know it can take innovative approaches to successfully locate and educate eligible borrowers who may have moved, or who may ignore legal notices from the claims administrator. We hope this viral video matches the success we saw with our Money Mart/Loan Mart refund drive last year.”

A prior three-month outreach push that targeted Money Mart and Loan Mart borrowers last year employed a highly successful satirical viral video whose “Pay Me Maybe” lyrics were set to the tune of Carly Rae Jepsen’s catchy hit song, “Call Me Maybe.” That online video offered a clever send-up of one of last year’s most ubiquitous Internet memes, while effectively spreading the message about a similar consumer loan refund program for borrowers who were overcharged on loan interest rates. The Money Mart/Loan Mart effort netted more than $5.5 million for more than 8,100 eligible claimants statewide, with restitution payments averaging nearly $700.

Both the Check ‘n Go and Money Mart/Loan Mart efforts arose out of litigation that Herrera’s Consumer Protection Unit filed on April 26, 2007. Herrera alleged in his complaint that Check ‘n Go engaged in an illicit “rent-a-bank” scheme to skirt the California law limiting allowable annual interest rates for those types of loan to no more than 36 percent. According to records Herrera’s office obtained before and during the course of litigation, Check ‘n Go made online installment loans to California consumers with interest rates as high as 400 percent-far in excess of what state law allows-as late as June 2008. Check ‘n Go denied wrongdoing in agreeing to settle the case.

Check ‘n Go claimants may be qualified for restitution if they obtained a four-month installment loan online between Nov. 2006 and June 2008 through the websites: checkngo.com, ilp.fbdel.com, and commandloans.com. To be eligible for repayment, borrowers must mail a claim form and a copy of the required form of identification to the settlement administrator, postmarked by March 28, 2013. Herrera is urging potential claimants who think they may be qualified for restitution to visit, email or call for more information:

(Toll Free) 1-855-581-2350

The litigation involving the Check ‘n Go loan settlement is: People of the State of California ex rel. Dennis Herrera v. Check N’ Go of California, Inc., et al. (San Francisco Superior Court Case No. CGC-07-462779).