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Car Title Complaints

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FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – When most of us buy a car or truck, we take out a loan, and pay it off.

Dan Collum of Arlington paid off his 2003 Ford Taurus in February of last year. He expected the company that owns the loan, Santander Consumer USA, to send him the title right away. But it didn’t arrive. So after five months of waiting, he called Santander to complain.

Collum says, “I was told, oh, it shouldn’t be a problem to get you a new one even though we show we sent you a new one in February. Sorry you didn’t get it, we’ll send you a new one. We’ll report this to the title department, and they’ll send you a new one soon.”

But the title to his car still didn’t arrive from Santander, a Dallas-based company that originates and services car loans. So in December of last year, Collum says, “I called again, ‘Well, I’m sorry sir that’s happened to you, we’ll send you another one to you, no problem at all.’ Nothing.”

It wasn’t until this past May, that Collum says Santander sent him a release of lien — indicating he had paid off his loan. He says it came more than one year after he paid off his car.

State law requires liens to be released no later than ten days after the payment is made. A spokeswoman with Santander says the release of lien was part of the title it originally mailed to Collum one week after he paid off his loan.

Still, for Collum, “It’s been really frustrating.”

Rebecca Paddock says she knows exactly what Collum is going through. When she paid off her car loan, it was owned by another company, Citifinancial. But she says she had to go through Santander because she was told it took over her account.

Paddock says, “I tried to get with Santander to release the title, but they refused to respond.”

Paddock called. She emailed. And she says she never could get through. “It went on for a year.” Paddock says when she hired a lawyer, who threatened to sue, she finally received her title.

But a Santander spokeswoman told us in fact Paddock was never their client — she was always a Citifinancial client. Santander says it was Citifinancial that sent Paddock the release of lien and title.

Paddock says, “He got a phone call the day it was received, saying the title is on the way. I was happy I was getting the title. But it was very frustrating going through the bureaucracy, and having to hire an attorney.”

Paddock and Collum filed complaints against Santander with the Better Business Bureau in Dallas. They aren’t the only ones. Jeannette Kopko of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Dallas says, “We’re getting complaints here at the Dallas Better Business Bureau from customers all over the country.”

That’s because Santander Consumer USA is based here in Dallas. And the number of complaints filed with the Dallas Better Business Bureau against the company is staggering: About 4,000— in just the past three years. Nearly 700 of them this year alone.

Kopko says, “That’s a lot of complaints on one company in that time period. That’s one of the businesses with the most complaints to the Dallas Better Business Bureau in 2010. In 2011, it was the business with the most complaints to the Dallas BBB, and so far in 2012, it’s the third most complained about business.”

We’ve just learned the Texas Attorney General’s Office is investigating Santander Consumer USA’s business practices.

In January, the state fired off this “Civil Investigative Demand” letter. It asks Santander to produce any documents that show how it collects unpaid auto loans, and responds to consumer complaints.

The state is now reviewing Santander’s responses.

We requested an on-camera interview with Santander. The company declined, but emailed us a statement, saying customer satisfaction is its highest priority, and that it follows all applicable consumer lending and collection laws.

As for Dan Collum, he says he still has a bitter taste in his mouth dealing with Santander. He still wants his title. Santander says it gave Collum the option of obtaining his title at one of their sites online.

Collum says he hasn’t done that yet. “It’s frustrating. I’ve waited a year and a half, and all I have is basically go do it yourself. Go do our job for us.”

In the past year, the Better Business Bureau has given Santander ratings of a D+ and even an F. Santander says it has responded to all of the complaints filed with the BBB. The company’s rating has now improved to an A-.

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