The society also called on the financial regulator to hand over copies of its investigation and for the Solicitors Regulation Authority to investigate the case, saying that the lender could have committed offences including blackmail and deception.
On Wednesday it emerged that Wonga, which offers short-term loans at an annual interest rate of 5,853%, had sent out letters to struggling borrowers in the names of two non-existent law firms. The communications were typically headed up “Urgent message” and began: “We have been instructed by Wonga to recover from you a debt of £X …”
Although the companies were fabricated, and took the names of Wonga employees, in some cases customers were charged an administration fee for their services.
The Financial Conduct Authority said Wonga had been guilty of “unfair and misleading debt collection practices” and said it had passed on the letters to the police, and calls have been mounting for a criminal investigation into the firm.
The Law Society’s chief executive, Desmond Hudson, said: “It seems that the intention behind Wonga’s dishonest activity was to make customers believe that their outstanding debt had been passed to a genuine law firm.
“It looks like they also wanted customers to believe that court action undertaken by a genuine law firm would follow if the debt was not repaid. Depending on the precise circumstances of what has happened, that could amount to blackmail and deception, as well as offences under the Solicitors Act 1974 and Legal Services Act 2007.”
The Law Society, which represents 160,000 solicitors across England and Wales, said it had asked the Metropolitan police to investigate three offences: one of obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception and blackmail, and separate offences under the Solicitors Act 1974 and the Legal Services Act 2007.
The title “solicitor” is covered by section 21 of the Solicitors Act 1974, as well as misuse of “any description implying that [a person] is qualified or recognised by law as qualified to act as a solicitor”.
City of London police said it had met with the FCA’s predecessor, the Office of Fair Trading, in 2013 to discuss the matter and it was decided that the matter should be left with the regulator.
It said in a statement: “In March 2013 the Office of Fair Trading met with the City of London police to consider the case, with the view at the time being that the most appropriate course of action was for the OFT to continue to investigate as regulator focusing on but not limited to the Consumer Credit Act, Legal Services Act and unfair trading regulations.”
Wonga said it had never been contacted by police over the matter and that it had contacted all of the customers who had been sent letters, but urged them to ensure it had up-to-date details via its website wonga.com/apology.
Wednesday’s announcement revealed that Wonga faced a bill to compensate customers, but had escaped a fine because of a change in regulators since the period in 2008 to 2010 when the letters were sent out.