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  • 3rd Circuit says IRS reporting language may violate FDCPA

    Courts

    On September 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a putative class action alleging a debt collector violated the FDCPA by including a statement noting that debt forgiveness may be reported to the IRS. The case was centered on the plaintiffs’ claim that letters sent to collect on debts that were less than $600, which contained the language “[w]e are not obligated to renew this offer. We will report forgiveness of debt as required by IRS regulations. Reporting is not required every time a debt is canceled or settled, and might not be required in your case,” were “false, deceptive and misleading” under the FDCPA because only discharged debts over $600 are required to be reported to the IRS. The district court dismissed the action, concluding the letters were not deceptive and the least sophisticated consumer would interpret the statement to mean in certain circumstances some discharges are reportable but not all are reportable.

    Upon appeal, the 3rd Circuit disagreed with the district court, finding “the least sophisticated debtor could be left with the impression that reporting could occur,” notwithstanding the letter’s qualifying statement that reporting is not required every time a debt is canceled or settled, and therefore, the language could signal a potential FDCPA violation. Recognizing the industry’s regular use of form letters, the appeals court noted, “we must reinforce that convenience does not excuse a potential violation of the FDCPA.”

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate IRS FDCPA Debt Collection Class Action

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  • FTC and NYAG settle with debt collectors who falsely threatened consumers

    Federal Issues

    On September 21, the FTC announced settlements with multiple New York debt collection operations and their principals (defendants) for unlawful debt collection practices. The settlements are a result of 2015 joint lawsuits by the FTC and the New York Attorney General, alleging the defendants unlawfully used threats and abusive language, including false threats that consumers would be arrested, to collect more than $45 million in supposed debts (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The settlement orders ban the defendants from the business of debt collection and prohibit the defendants from (i) misrepresenting information related to financial products and services; (ii) disclosing, using, or benefitting from the consumer information obtained through the course of the debt collection activities; and (iii) failing to disclose of such personal information properly. The two orders (located here and here) impose a $22.5 million judgment against one set of defendants, and a judgment of $4.4 million against other defendants. The judgments are suspended as to some of the defendants due to inability to pay.

    Federal Issues FTC Debt Collection Enforcement Settlement State Attorney General State Issues

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  • District Court partially dismisses student loan co-signer claims alleging violations of federal and D.C. debt-collection laws

    Courts

    On September 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia partially granted a student loan administrator’s and a law firm’s joint motion to dismiss, and granted a lender’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, in a case involving a student loan co-signer’s claims brought under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), D.C. debt collection statute, and state law. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that her claims were tolled and dismissed the FDCPA claims against the loan administrator and firm because they were time-barred. The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that the firm and the lender violated several provisions of the D.C. debt collection statute, concluding that the plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support an allegation that the defendants willfully violated the statute. However, the court found that the plaintiff included sufficient facts to support a claim under the D.C. statute against the loan administrator based on allegations that the administrator, among other things, (i) concealed its “lack of authorization to sue”; (ii) concealed the fact that it was acting as a collector without the authority to enforce the terms of the loan; and (iii) has a “long, well-documented history of filing debt collection lawsuits falsely claiming to be the lender and/or real party in interest.” Finally, the court held that plaintiff’s abuse of process and malicious prosecution actions failed to state a claim against any of the defendants.

    Courts Student Lending Debt Collection FDCPA State Issues

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  • Florida appeals court finds consumer is entitled to attorney’s fees following debt collection suit

    Courts

    On September 14, a Florida appeals court held that a consumer was entitled to attorney’s fees after a debt collector voluntarily dismissed its “account stated” collection lawsuit for an unpaid credit card balance. Following the debt collector’s voluntary dismissal, the consumer moved for attorney’s fees under a provision in the credit card account agreement that provides for fees to the creditor in any collection action and the reciprocity provision in Section 57.105(7), Florida Statutes (2015). The Florida reciprocity statute permits a court to grant reasonable attorney’s fees to a prevailing party, whether as plaintiff or defendant, with respect to an action to enforce the contract. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s order and found that the consumer was entitled to attorney’s fees. The court concluded that, because the consumer was the prevailing party and the collection action was to enforce the contract, the reciprocity provision in section 57.105(7) applied to the consumer’s request for attorney’s fees under the terms of the agreement. The court remanded the case to the trial court to determine the attorney’s fee award.

    Courts State Issues Attorney Fees Debt Collection

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  • California updates notice requirements on time-barred debt collection efforts

    State Issues

    On September 5, the California governor signed AB 1526, which, among other things, amends state debt collection law to require certain written notices to be included in the first written communications provided to the debtor after the debt became time-barred and after the date for obsolescence under the FCRA. If the debt is not past the date of obsolescence, the debt collector is required to include specific language in the first written communication to the debtor after the debt has become time-barred that indicates the debtor will not be sued for the debt, but the debt may be reported as unpaid to credit reporting agencies as allowed by law. If the debt is past the date of obsolescence, the debt collector is required to include specific language in the first written communication to the debtor after the date for obsolescence indicating the debtor will not be sued for the debt and the debt will not be reported to credit reporting agencies. The law also incorporates a four-year statute of limitations on the collection of debt by specifically prohibiting a debt collector from initiating a lawsuit, an arbitration, or other legal proceeding to collect the debt after the four-year period in which the action must have been commenced has ended.

    State Issues Debt Collection State Legislation FCRA

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  • District court denies bank’s motion to dismiss; rules homeowner’s claims under California Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices can proceed

    Courts

    On September 5, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss certain alleged violations of both the California Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Rosenthal Act) and the state’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) as cited in the homeowner’s first amended complaint. According to the order, the plaintiff alleged, among other things, that the bank engaged in debt collection activities that went “beyond the scope of an ordinary foreclosure process” under the Rosenthal Act “when it attempted to collect on the original amount due under the promissory note rather than the [loan modification] agreement.” The bank countered and argued that when it acted as the mortgage loan servicer for the homeowner in the context of foreclosure proceedings it was not subject to liability under the Rosenthal Act because “courts have held ‘that the Rosenthal Act [is] not applicable to residential mortgage loans.” However, the court rejected the bank’s argument and found, among other things, that (i) the homeowner adequately pleaded the bank engaged in debt collection activities; (ii) as determined by the 9th Circuit, “mortgage servicers may be subject to the Rosenthal Act for collection activities surrounding a loan modification agreement”; and (iii) the plaintiff’s allegations concerning the bank’s debt collection practices may be subject to the Rosenthal Act and are sufficient to withstand the bank’s motion to dismiss. Concerning the alleged UCL violation, the court determined that the plaintiff’s factual allegations supported her claims.

    Courts State Issues Debt Collection

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  • FTC settles with debt collection operators for alleged fraudulent collections

    Federal Issues

    On September 7, the FTC announced a series of settlements with the operators of a Georgia-based debt collection business for allegedly violating the FTC Act by making false, or misleading claims and threats during debt collection. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in November 2017, the FTC filed a complaint alleging that the defendants threatened legal action, garnishment, and imprisonment if purported debts were not paid, and in other instances, attempted to collect debts after consumers provided proof that the debt was paid off. Each settlement order (available here, here, and here) imposes a $3.4 million penalty against the defendants, which, after surrendering certain assets, will be partially suspended due to the inability to pay. The settlement orders ban the defendants from the business of debt collection, and prohibit the defendants from (i) misrepresenting information related to financial products and services, and (ii) disclosing, using, or benefitting from the consumer information obtained through the course of the debt collection activities.

    Federal Issues FTC Consumer Finance Debt Collection Enforcement FTC Act

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  • CFPB issues summer 2018 Supervisory Highlights

    Federal Issues

    On September 6, the CFPB released its summer 2018 Supervisory Highlights, which outlines its supervisory and oversight actions in the areas of auto loan servicing, credit card account management, debt collection, mortgage servicing, payday lending, and small business lending. The findings of the report cover examinations that generally were completed between December 2017 and May 2018. Highlights of the examination findings include:

    • Auto loan servicing. The Bureau determined that billing statements showing “paid-ahead” status after insurance proceeds from a total vehicle loss were applied, where consumers were treated as late if they failed to pay the next month, were deceptive. The Bureau also found that servicers unfairly repossessed vehicles after the repossession should have been canceled because the account was not coded correctly, or because an agreement with consumer was reached.
    • Credit card account management. The Bureau found that companies failed to reevaluate accounts for eligibility for a rate reduction under Regulation Z or failed to appropriately reduce annual percentage rates.
    • Debt collection. The Bureau found that debt collectors failed to mail debt verifications to consumers before engaging in continued debt collection, activities as required by the FDCPA.
    • Mortgage servicing. The Bureau found that mortgage servicers delayed processing permanent modifications after consumers successfully completed their trial modifications, resulting in accrued interest and fees that would not otherwise have accrued, which the Bureau determined was an unfair act or practice.
    • Payday lending. The Bureau found that companies threatened to repossess consumer vehicles, notwithstanding that they generally did not  actually do so or have a business relationship with an entity capable of doing so, which the Bureau determined was a deceptive practice. The Bureau also found that companies did not obtain valid preauthorized EFT authorizations for debits initiated using debit card numbers or ACH credentials provided for other purposes, in violation of Regulation E.
    • Small business lending. The Bureau found that some institutions collect and maintain only limited data on small business lending decisions, which it determined could impede the institution’s ability to monitor ECOA risk. The Bureau noted positive exam findings including, (i) active oversight of an entity’s CMS framework; (ii) maintaining records of policy and procedure updates; and (iii) self-conducted semi-annual ECOA risk assessments, which included small business lending.

    The report notes that in response to most examination findings, the companies have already remediated or have plans to remediate affected consumers and implement corrective actions, such as new policies in procedures.

    Finally, the report highlights, among other things, (i) two recent enforcement actions that were a result of supervisory activity (covered by InfoBytes here and here); (ii) recent updates to the mortgage servicing rule and TILA-RESPA integrated disclosure rule (covered by InfoBytes here and here); and (iii) HMDA implementation updates (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues CFPB Auto Finance Payday Lending Debt Collection Mortgage Servicing Credit Cards Supervision Examination

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  • 8th Circuit holds a garnishment notice sent after receiving a “cease” letter does not violate the FDCPA

    Courts

    On August 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a law firm, holding that a garnishment notice sent after a consumer requested the company cease communication did not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The court held that sending a notice of garnishment was permissible because a “creditor may communicate with a debtor after receiving a cease letter to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor.”  The court further held that the notice’s inclusion of a contact phone number did not “transform” the notice into a communication regarding the debt because, while the notice was a “communication regarding the debt in a general sense . . . it still fits within the remedy exception” and it would have been “odd” for the notice not to provide contact information.  The court also rejected the claim that the law firm violated the FDCPA by discussing possible resolution of the debt in a subsequent phone call initiated by the consumer, noting that the consumer had asked about the debt, and agreeing with the district court that the phone call was “an unsubtle and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to provoke [the law firm] into committing an FDCPA violation.”  The court added that prohibiting debt collectors from responding to a consumer’s inquiries after a cease letter would often force debt collectors to file suit in order to resolve debts, which is “clearly at odds with the language and purpose of the FDCPA.” 

    Finally, the court rejected the argument that the garnishment notice deceived consumers into contacting the law firm to discuss the legal aspects of the garnishment process, when in fact they would be subjected to debt collection efforts.  Applying the unsophisticated consumer standard, the court held that the garnishment notice was not deceptive because it did not state that phone calls would be answered by attorneys prepared to answer questions solely about garnishment, and the consumer’s belief to the contrary was “the exact sort of peculiar interpretation against which debt collectors are protected by the objective element of the unsophisticated consumer standard.”

     

    Courts Appellate Eighth Circuit Debt Collection

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  • CFPB publishes quarterly consumer credit trends on telecommunications-debt collection reporting

    Consumer Finance

    On August 22, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which focuses on the reporting of telecommunications-debt collections to nationwide consumer reporting agencies based on a sample of approximately 5 million credit records.  The report notes that during the past five years approximately 22 percent of credit records contained at least one telecommunications-related (telecom-related) item, with nearly 95 percent of these telecom-related items being reported by collection agencies. The report highlights that 37 percent of consumers who reported having been contacted about a debt in collection in the prior year were contacted about a telecommunications debt, and more than one fifth of all debt collection revenue is telecom-related debt. The report also observed that a single telecom collection may be associated with multiple tradelines in a credit record over time, suggesting that telecom collections are often reassigned. Notably, however, the report suggests that while the presence of a telecom-related collection item on a credit record is most commonly associated with consumers with lower credit scores, the change in score before and after the collection item appears on the credit record is often small, and as a result, a single telecom-related collection is unlikely to affect a credit decision for those consumers.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Debt Collection Consumer Reporting Agency

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