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  • Second Circuit Ruling May Expose Debt Collection Law Firms to Increased FDCPA Claims

    Courts

    On November 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a Southern District of New York dismissal of a lawsuit against a debt collection law firm regarding actions taken during state court collection proceedings. Concluding that the plaintiff had stated a claim against the law firm under two sections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a three-judge panel vacated the dismissal and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its decision.

    The appeal stems from the law firm’s actions in attempting to collect on a default judgment entered against the plaintiff. After receiving a restraining notice from the law firm, the plaintiff’s bank placed a restraint on his checking account and the law firm told plaintiff that, unless he made a payment, he would have to get a court order to lift the restraint. The plaintiff sought such an order on the grounds that all the money in his checking account was Social Security Retirement Income (SSRI) and, therefore, exempt from restraint. The plaintiff claimed that the law firm’s objection to his request contained false statements in violation of the FDCPA and New York law because the plaintiff had earlier provided the law firm with documents supporting his exemption claim.

    In finding the complaint states a claim under FDCPA section 1692e, the Court rejected, among other arguments made by the law firm, the notion that FDCPA liability cannot be imposed based on conduct in litigation; the opinion contrasts bankruptcy court proceedings—where the Second Circuit has found the filing of false statements of claim does not violate the FDCPA—with those of state courts, “where . . . the consumer, often unfamiliar with the law governing garnishment of bank accounts, has the benefit of neither counsel nor a bankruptcy trustee.” The Court also held that “a debt collector engages in unfair or unconscionable litigation conduct in violation of [FDCPA] section 1692f when . . . it in bad faith unduly prolongs legal proceedings or requires a consumer to appear at an unnecessary hearing.”

    Courts Appellate FDCPA Second Circuit Debt Collection

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  • CFPB Initiates Complaint Against Company for Deceptive, Unfair, and Abusive Loan Collection Practices

    Consumer Finance

    On November 15, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint against a Texas-based service provider, alleging that it had assisted in the collection of loans that were, in whole or in part, void under state law. The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana alleges that the service provider, which provided services to three tribal lending entities engaged in the business of extending online installment loans and lines of credit, along with two companies responsible for the collection process (collectively defendants), assisted in the collection of loans that consumers were not legally obligated to pay based on identified states’ usury laws or licensing requirements. Although the specific claims vary by defendant, the complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in deceptive, unfair, and abusive acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) by:

    • misrepresenting that consumers were responsible for money owed on loans that were void in whole or in part, or did not exist, because the loans were void under state licensing or usury laws (voided loans);
    • demanding repayment from consumers on voided loans by issuing “demand letters,” electronically debiting funds from consumer bank accounts, and placing phone calls to consumers;
    • failing to disclose to consumers that defendants had no legal right to collect on certain voided loans and that consumers were not legally obligated to repay the loans;
    • causing injury to consumers by servicing and collecting on the voided loans;
    • taking advantage of consumers’ “lack of understanding” regarding the voided loans; and
    • providing assistance in, or administering, the origination and collection of the voided loans.

    The CFPB is seeking monetary relief, civil money penalties, injunctive relief, and a prohibition of the service provider’s ability to commit future violations of the CFPA.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Debt Collection Installment Loans UDAAP CFPA

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  • FTC Files Complaint Against Debt Collection Business for Alleged Violations of FTC Act, FDCPA

    Consumer Finance

    On November 8, the FTC issued a press release announcing charges against a Georgia-based debt collection business for allegedly violating the FTC Act by making false, unsubstantiated, or misleading claims to trick consumers into paying debt they did not actually owe. In the complaint, the FTC alleged defendants threatened legal action, garnishment, and imprisonment if the purported debt was not paid, and in other instances, attempted to collect debts after consumers provided proof the debt was paid off. Additionally, the defendants allegedly violated the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) by (i) making false, deceptive, or misleading representations, including withholding the true status of the debt, threatening legal action or imprisonment, and failing to disclose they were debt collectors; (ii) engaging in unlawful third-party communications without obtaining prior consumer consent; and (iii) failing to provide consumers written verification of their debt within the required time frame. According to the FTC, defendants have collected more than $3.4 million from consumers since January 2015. A federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia has temporarily restrained and enjoined the defendants’ alleged illegal practices and frozen their assets.

    Consumer Finance FTC Debt Collection Enforcement FTC Act FDCPA

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  • CFPB Takes Action Against Largest Debt Settlement Provider

    Consumer Finance

    On November 9, the CFPB announced the filing of a complaint against the largest debt settlement provider in the country and its co-CEO for allegedly deceiving consumers about its debt settlement services. According to the complaint, the defendants engaged in deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Consumer Financial Protection Act by:

    • misleading consumers about the settlement provider’s ability to negotiate with creditors that the settlement provider knew maintained policies against working with settlement companies;
    • instructing consumers to mislead creditors when asked about their participation in a debt settlement program;
    • leading consumers to believe the defendants would negotiate on their behalf when, in fact, some consumers were only “coached” on how to negotiate settlements on their own;
    • misleading consumers by charging them the full fee when creditors stop collection efforts without the defendants taking any action despite advertising that the fee is only charged if settlement is negotiated by the settlement provider and payments begin under the terms of a settlement; and
    • failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose consumers’ rights to refunds from their deposit accounts if they leave the settlement program.

    The CFPB is seeking monetary relief, civil money penalties, and injunctive relief against the defendants.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Debt Collection Enforcement Debt Settlement Telemarketing Sales Rule CFPA

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  • Illinois AG and FTC Reach $9 Million Settlement With Phantom Debt Collector

    Consumer Finance

    On October 31, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced settlements with three operators of a fake debt collection scheme in Chicago. According to the Attorney General’s office, the three individuals and associated companies identified people who had recently applied for or received a short-term loan and then posed as a law firm to collect on the debt. The companies also sold fictitious loan debt portfolios to other debt buyers, who then attempted to collect on the fake debts. The settlements require the operators to surrender at least $9 million in assets (which will be used to refund impacted consumers) and, among other things, ban them from the debt collection business and from selling debt portfolios.

    Consumer Finance State AG FTC Debt Collection Payday Lending Enforcement Settlement

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  • CFPB Releases 50-State Snapshots of Student Debt, Servicemember Complaints

    Consumer Finance

    On October 27, the CFPB published a blog post highlighting the Bureau’s October 20 “50-state snapshot of student debt,” which illustrates how the “more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt” is spread across the country. The snapshot also provides data on the more than 50,000 student loan complaints and 10,000 debt collection complaints received by the CFPB through September 2017 (over the course of 5 years). Specifically, for each state, the snapshot provides (i) the “total outstanding student loan debt balance as of 2016”; (ii) the “total student loan complaints handled”; (iii) the “change in volume of student loan complaints handled”; (iv) the “total debt collection complaints handled related to student loans”; and (v) the “change in volume of debt collection complaints handled related to student loans.” The blog post also provides tips and tools intended to assist student loan borrowers navigate problems with their loans.

    On October 31, the CFPB published a blog post releasing the Bureau’s “50 state snapshot of servicemember complaints,” which provides state-specific data on the over 91,000 complaints received from servicemembers, veterans, and their families since 2011 (which the CFPB collectively defines as, “servicemember”). Specifically, for each state, the snapshot provides (i) the total number of servicemember complaints handled since 2011, (ii) distribution of complaints by product for both servicemembers and non-servicemembers; (iiI) distribution of complaints by branch of service; and (iv) a visual representation of complaints by zip code.

    Consumer Finance Lending Student Lending Debt Collection Consumer Complaints CFPB Servicemembers

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  • FTC Obtains Default Judgment Against Operations That Allegedly Sold Counterfeit Payday Loan Debt Portfolios

    Consumer Finance

    On October 17, the FTC issued a press release announcing a default judgment in an action brought against two Kansas-based operations and their owner (defendants), who allegedly violated the Federal Trade Commission Act by selling lists of counterfeit payday loan debt portfolios to debt collectors. The allegations claimed that in numerous instances, the portfolios listed “loans that the identified lenders have not, in fact, made to the identified consumers,” and that the defendants “have not purchased, or otherwise obtained, any rights to collect loan debts originated by the lenders listed . . ., nor have they engaged in any transaction that authorizes them to collect, sell, distribute, or transfer any valid loans originated by those lenders.” As a result, numerous consumers were contacted by various debt collectors demanding repayment of the fake debts, and in some instances, consumers made payments to either stop the collection calls or because they feared becoming delinquent. Under the terms of the default judgment, the defendants (i) must pay more than $4.1 million as equitable monetary relief; (ii) are banned from handling sensitive financial information, such as “bank account numbers, credit or debit card numbers, or social security numbers”; and (iii) are prohibited from misrepresenting material facts.

    Consumer Finance FTC Enforcement Payday Lending Settlement Debt Collection FTC Act Regulator Enforcement

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  • CFPB Issues Report: Student Loan Complaints Initiated Actions Bringing Relief to Borrowers

    Lending

    On October 16, the CFPB published its annual report analyzing consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2016 and August 31, 2017. The report, titled “Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman,” is based on more than 22,000 complaints, which related to federal student loan servicing, debt collection, private student loans servicing, and debt relief services. The press release announcing the report noted that this represented a 120 percent increase in student loan complaints compared to last year, but also that this can partly be attributed to the fact that the Bureau updated its student loan complaint form in late February 2016 to accept complaints about federal student loan servicing issues. The report also noted that student loan complaints from July 2011 through August 2017 have led to actions resulting in more than $750 million in relief to student loan borrowers and improved the loan repayment process for millions of additional borrowers.

    The CFPB estimates that federal and private student loan debt combined has reached $1.4 trillion, mostly from federal loans, with more than 8 million student loan borrowers in default due to not making a required monthly payment for at least nine months. The report makes additional observations, including the following:

    • Military student loan borrowers continue to complain about difficulties in accessing protections guaranteed under federal law, such as interest rate caps under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, automatic recertification of income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, zero percent interest rate reductions while serving in areas of hostility, and discharging loans for veterans due to Total and Permanently Disability (TPD).
    • Consumers continue to report challenges concerning repayment roadblocks, such as difficulty in applying for or recertifying IDR plans, obtaining TPD discharge, and accessing advertised loan benefits for private loans.
    • Harassing and aggressive debt collection tactics, including the possibility for suspension or revocation of professional licenses in some states following a default, reportedly are creating additional challenges for consumers.

    Lending Student Lending CFPB Servicemembers SCRA Debt Collection

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  • Eleventh Circuit Holds a Debt Collector’s Voicemail Qualifies as a “Communication” Under FDCPA

    Courts

    On September 22, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, while affirming in part, a lower court’s decision concerning whether a voicemail left by a debt collector constitutes a “communication” and how “meaningful disclosure” should be interpreted under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The panel answered the first issue by noting that the FDCPA’s definition of “communication” includes “the conveying of information regarding a debt [either] directly or indirectly to any person through any medium.” Therefore, the panel opined, under the statutory language, the only requirement for the voicemail to qualify as a communication was that it convey to the consumer that the call concerned a debt—which it did. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the claim under section 1692e of the FDCPA and remanded for further proceedings consistent with their findings.

    However, the panel agreed with the lower court’s interpretation of “meaningful disclosure” under section 1692d of the FDCPA—which protects consumers from “harassment and abuse” by prohibiting debt collectors from “placing telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity.” Specifically, the panel held that a debt collector need only provide the name of the company and the nature of its debt collection business on the call. The statute does not require disclosure of the individual employee’s name as this additional information would not be useful to a consumer. Consequently, the appellate court upheld the district court’s decision to dismiss the claim under section 1692d.

    Courts FDCPA Appellate Eleventh Circuit Debt Collection Litigation

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  • NYDFS Announces Settlement to Provide Restitution and Loan Forgiveness to Consumers Affected by Payday Lending Practices

    Consumer Finance

    On September 25, New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) Superintendent Maria T. Vullo announced the Department had entered into a consent order with a payday loan debt collector and payday loan servicer (together, “defendants”) for allegedly collecting on illegal payday loans made to New York consumers between 2011 to 2014. Payday lending, according to NYDFS’ press release, is illegal in the state, and debt collectors who “collect or attempt to collect outstanding payments from New Yorkers on payday loans violate debt collection laws.” The consent order notes that in 2013, NYDFS circulated a guidance letter to all debt collectors operating in the state to remind them that usurious loans made by non-bank lenders with interest rates exceeding the statutory maximum—and the attempts to collect debts on these types of loans—are “void and unenforceable and violate state and federal law.” However, one of the defendants continued to collect on payday loans for more than a year. The alleged actions, NYDFS asserted, are violations of the Fair Debt Collection Procedures Act, New York Debt Collection Procedures Law, and New York General Business Law.

    Pursuant to the consent order, which includes a notice letter to be sent to affected consumers, the debt collector defendant must comply with the following: (i) cease all collection on payday loans in New York; (ii) release and discharge more than $11.8 million in outstanding applicable payday loan debts; (iii) move to vacate any judgments obtained on payday loan accounts; and (iv) “[r]elease any pending garnishments, levies, liens, restraining notices, or attachments relating to any judgments on New Yorkers’ payday loan accounts.” The loan servicer defendant must close any pending accounts in the state and cease communications with consumers regarding their accounts.

    Consumer Finance State Issues NYDFS Enforcement Settlement Payday Lending Debt Collection FDCPA

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