Prosper Loan Linked to Terror – A Preliminary Assessment

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By now you have probably heard that one of the San Bernardino terrorists received a $28,500 deposit from two weeks prior to committing the attack. After Fox News broke that story, I may have been the first to publicly connect it to an alternative lender which was later revealed to be marketplace lender Prosper about 12 hours later.

As a Prosper investor myself, here are some things you should know:

The $28,500 deposit (if that was the exact true amount) would have been net of the origination fees. In all likelihood this was a loan for around $30,000 and the borrower only netted $28,500.

Those that have speculated that it would be impossible for someone making $53,000 a year (as Syed Farook did) to qualify for an unsecured loan of this amount are wrong. There are loans on the platform right now that fit these parameters. Online Lenders like Prosper and Lending Club are pretty aggressive with their lending.

The notion that Prosper somehow could’ve detected what the borrower planned to do two weeks later just isn’t possible. In lending, this is known as the asshole factor, meaning that even if the applicant meets all the criteria, they could just decide to be an asshole, and there’s no way to predict that.

There are strict laws in place to prevent all kinds of discrimination, meaning that even if Prosper had formed some kind of suspicion about the borrower, it may have been illegal to act on that suspicion. Such is the hypocritical paradigm of fair lending where factors that are measurable predictors of negative performance (or worse) cannot be legally used. Federal laws have purposely tried to create an environment where lenders make decisions on an objective basis they consider to be fair. In business lending for example, there is a law within Dodd-Frank that has not been implemented yet, but seeks to prevent loan officers from knowing the gender or even the name of the prospective borrower to protect them from subconscious discrimination.

Investigators have publicly announced that the terrorists were not on any watch lists and therefore there are no systems or checks that Prosper could’ve plugged into to have gotten the information.

Prosper and other alternative lenders already have Anti-Money Laundering Policies. I know this because I complained about Lending Club’s over a year ago.

The Wall Street Journal stated, “Only some nonbank financial institutions, such as mortgage lenders, are subject to Treasury rules requiring lenders to report suspicious activity to the government under the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.” Maybe that’s true, but there is nothing suspicious about someone applying for a loan online who is not on any watch lists. I can’t think of anything that could’ve been suspicious unless they submitted fake pay stubs or forged documents.

“There’s no due diligence that’s done into how these loans are actually going to be used,” said Brian Korn, a partner at the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP in the WSJ. This is true and at the same time related to anti-discrimination laws. Judging a loan applicant by their detailed monetary plans could potentially induce gender or ethnicity bias, even if subconscious.

There will be plenty of questions in the coming days from Americans, the media, and government officials about what alternative lenders are doing to make sure they’re not funding terrorists. Part of what they may learn is that for all the data that alternative lenders have at their disposal to make intelligent decisions on an automated basis, some of them cannot be legally used. They’ll also find out that there’s only so much that predictive analytics can actually predict.

It’s very unlikely that Prosper could’ve handled anything differently…

Last modified: December 9, 2015
Sean Murray

Category: p2p lending

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