Online lenders, led by San Francisco's Lending Club, have grown explosively over the last few years, lending billions to consumers who can quickly get large sums by simply filling out a few online forms. Now state and federal officials look to be taking steps toward more tightly regulating the industry.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week called for borrowers to alert the federal agency of any complaints they have about the firms, a move seen in the industry as a potential prelude to further action by the consumer watchdog.

"It's likely a signal that the bureau has decided to send to companies: Watch out, our eyes are on you," said Scott Pearson, a partner in the Los Angeles office of law firm Ballard Spahr who represents marketplace lenders. "It's a sign that the regulators are paying attention to what marketplace lenders are doing."

Pearson said the additional scrutiny could mirror what the CFPB has done in other industries including auto lenders and debt-collection firms as well as mortgage lenders.

"To the extent there's any kind of discrimination going on, that's something the bureau would be very interested in. And to the extent there's anything they believe is unfair, deceptive or abusive," Pearson said.

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