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  • SEC Obtains Emergency Court Order Against Canadian Firm for Allegedly Violating Federal Securities Law; Halts Initial Coin Offering

    Securities

    On December 4, the SEC announced it had obtained an emergency court order to freeze the assets of a Canadian company and the company’s founders (Defendants) and block Defendants’ ability to continue to raise funds through an initial coin offering (ICO). At the time the order was issued, the ICO had raised $15 million since August by “promising investors returns of 1,354% in under 29 days.” This is the first enforcement action taken by the SEC’s recently established Cyber Unit, whose focus includes distributed ledger technology and initial coin offering violations. (See previous InfoBytes Cyber Unit coverage here.)

    According to a complaint filed December 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Defendants allegedly violated the anti-fraud and registration provisions of U.S. federal securities laws by making a series of materially false and misleading statements when marketing and selling securities as digital tokens/cryptocurrencies to obtain investor funds. From August to the present, Defendants purportedly raised $15 million through the ICO, and made false representations including, among other things, that: (i) the firm consisted of large teams of experts across the globe, and (ii) investors would receive certain promised returns (1,354% in less than a month) on investments if all tokens were sold. Further, Defendants allegedly failed to disclose (i) that a portion of the proceeds from the ICO funds would pay personal expenses, and (ii) that the company’s principal executive was “a known recidivist securities law violator in Canada.” The SEC seeks relief in the form of permanent injunctions, monetary penalties and interest, and an “officer-and-director bar and a bar from offering digital securities” against the company’s founders.

    Securities SEC Initial Coin Offerings Enforcement Blockchain Cryptocurrency Fintech

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  • FTC Announces Final Approval of Settlements With Companies Over EU-U.S. Privacy Shield False Certification Claims

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On November 29, the FTC announced it had approved final settlements with three companies over allegations that they falsely claimed  participation in the European Union-U.S. Privacy Shield (EU-U.S. Privacy Shield) framework. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The settlements mark the FTC’s first EU-U.S. Privacy Shield enforcement actions following the EU’s finalization and adoption in July 2016 (as covered by InfoBytes) of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework, which established a mechanism for companies to transfer consumer data between the EU and the U.S. in compliance with specified obligations.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Enforcement FTC Settlement

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  • CFPB Fines Large Bank for Alleged Student Loan Servicing Issues

    Lending

    On November 21, the CFPB announced it had entered into a consent order with a large national bank over allegations that the bank engaged in unfair and deceptive practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (CFPA) related to its student loan servicing activities. The order, which the bank consented to without admitting or denying the findings, asserts that for the student loan accounts it was servicing, the bank (i) misrepresented information to borrowers about tax benefits; (ii) failed to refund interest and fees inaccurately charged; (iii) misstated minimum monthly payment amounts in bills; and (iv) failed to provide required information when denying co-signer release requests. In addition to imposing a civil money penalty, the CFPB’s order requires the bank to pay restitution to certain consumers and implement certain policies.

    Lending Student Lending CFPB Enforcement UDAAP CFPA

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  • FinCEN Issues $8 Million Penalty to California Club Card for Willful Violation of Anti-Money Laundering Controls

    Financial Crimes

    On November 17, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that it had assessed an $8 million civil money penalty against a California card club company for “willfully violating” the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) from 2009 to 2017. According to FinCEN, the company failed to establish and maintain an operational anti-money laundering program and failed to detect and timely report many suspicious transactions. FinCEN asserts that during the eight-year period, the company failed to file any Suspicious Activity Reports regarding loan sharking and other criminal activities being conducted through the company that were the subject of a 2011 state and federal law enforcement raid. Additionally, the company allegedly failed to implement sufficient internal controls to monitor risks associated with gaming practices that allowed customers to co-mingle and pool bets with anonymity.

    The penalty assessment does not reflect consent by the company, and the company may elect to contest the penalty by not paying within the allotted time period.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering Enforcement SARs

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  • OFAC Penalizes Credit Card Issuer for Violations of Cuban Assets Control Regulations

    Financial Crimes

    On November 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it had reached a $204,277 settlement with a U.S. financial institution for alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). The settlement involves actions taken by an international credit card company which, at the time of the apparent violations, was a wholly owned subsidiary of an entity that was itself 50 percent owned by the U.S. financial institution. According to the announcement, between 2009 and 2014, credit cards that the company issued to over 100 corporate customers were used to make purchases in Cuba or otherwise involved Cuba. OFAC asserts that the company failed to implement controls to prevent this even though it had policies and procedures in place to review transactions for compliance with CACR.

    In determining the settlement amount, OFAC considered that (i) employees within the company had reason to know of the conduct that led to the alleged violations; (ii) none of the entities involved appeared to appreciate the risk that the credit cards might be used in Cuba; (iii) at the time they occurred, the actions resulted in harm to the US sanctions program objectives; (iv) the U.S. financial institution is a large and sophisticated financial entity; and (v) during the investigation, the entities provided “verifiably inaccurate or incomplete, including material omissions.” OFAC also considered the fact that the entities voluntarily self-disclosed the alleged violations and the U.S. financial institution took “swift and appropriate remedial action” upon discovery.

    OFAC recently announced updates to CACR, covered by InfoBytes here.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Enforcement Settlement Credit Cards

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  • CFPB Fines Loan-Servicing Software Company $1.1 Million for Flaws Leading to the Reporting of Inaccurate Consumer Information

    Consumer Finance

    On November 17, the CFPB ordered a loan-servicing software company to pay a $1.1 million penalty for errors that resulted in the company furnishing incorrect consumer information related to over one million borrowers to the credit reporting agencies. The consent order alleges that the company violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act when its third-party software application generated and furnished inaccurate and incomplete information to consumer reporting agencies because of known software defects. The company allegedly did not share the existence of the defects with its auto-lender clients. In addition to the civil money penalty, the company was ordered to: (i) explain its errors to its clients; (ii) fix the faulty software; and (iii) provide the Bureau with a compliance plan outlining how it plans to identify and fix the defects, as well as ensure that the software is capable of reporting accurate information.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement Credit Reporting Agency Credit Scores CFPA UDAAP

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  • SEC Releases FY 2017 Annual Report on Enforcement Priorities and Results

    Federal Issues

    On November 15, the SEC Division of Enforcement released a report highlighting the division’s priorities for the coming year and summarizing the enforcement actions from FY 2017. Division Co-Directors Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin identify and discuss the five core principles that guide their decision making: (i) “Focus on the Main Street Investor”; (ii) “Focus on Individual Accountability”; (iii) “Keep Pace With Technological Change”; (iv) “Impose Sanctions That Most Effectively Further Enforcement Goals”; and (v) “Constantly Assess the Allocation of [the Division’s] Resources.”

    The report highlights the two new initiatives announced in 2017 as key priorities: the Cyber Unit and Retail Strategy Task Force (previously covered by InfoBytes). The report also gives an overview of the 754 FY 2017 enforcement actions, including a summary of the various remedies the Division sought.

    Federal Issues SEC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Enforcement Financial Crimes

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  • DOJ Announces $5.4 Million in Additional Relief for Servicemembers Impacted by Bank’s Alleged SCRA Violations

    Lending

    On November 14, the DOJ announced it had secured an additional $5.4 million from a major U.S. bank related to a September 2016 settlement (previously covered by InfoBytes) resolving allegations that between January 2008 and July 2015 the bank repossessed vehicles owned by active duty servicemembers without required court orders in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The original consent order with the DOJ required the bank to pay $10,000, plus lost equity, to each of the 413 affected servicemembers whose cars were found to be unlawfully seized and further stipulated the bank could be required to compensate additional servicemembers. Since entering into the 2016 settlement with the DOJ, the bank announced it had uncovered another 450 qualifying servicemembers, bringing the combined affected total to 863, with compensatory payouts of more than $10 million.

    Lending Fair Lending DOJ SCRA Servicemembers Settlement Enforcement

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  • SEC Reaches $3.5 Million Settlement With Broker-Dealer Over Failure to File Suspicious Activity Reports

    Securities

    On November 13, the SEC announced it has reached a settlement in an administrative proceeding against a broker-dealer firm for allegedly willful violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act, including the firm’s failure to file, or timely file, at least 50 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) with the Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN) from approximately March 2012 through June 2013. As the SEC Order notes, Bank Secrecy Act regulations require a broker-dealer to file a SAR if it knows, suspects or has reason to suspect that a transaction of a certain minimum or aggregated amount involved funds derived from illegal activity or if the transaction was conducted to disguise funds derived from illegal activities. Other factors requiring a broker-dealer to file a SAR include the absence of any business or apparent lawful purpose for the transaction or if the transaction is to facilitate criminal activity.

    When deciding whether to accept the firm’s settlement offer, the SEC considered voluntary remedial efforts undertaken by the firm, including the fact that the firm retained a third-party anti-money laundering (AML) compliance company to conduct a review of some of the firm’s SAR investigations. Under the terms of the settlement, the firm voluntarily agreed to, among other things, conduct a review of its AML policies and procedures for the identification, evaluation and reporting of suspicious activity related to firm accounts; and provide additional training to staff responsible for conducting investigations and filing SARs. Additionally, the firm was assessed a civil money penalty of $3.5 million.

    Securities Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering SARs Enforcement FinCEN

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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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