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  • District Court grants FTC request for preliminary injunction against mortgage assistance relief operation that allegedly misrepresented material facts to distressed homeowners

    Courts

    On May 8, the FTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a preliminary injunction on April 27 at the FTC’s request against a mortgage assistance relief operation and its principals (defendants), prohibiting them from misrepresenting material facts to consumers and imposing an asset freeze and other equitable relief. According to a complaint filed by the FTC on April 12, which sought “temporary, preliminary, and permanent injunctive relief, rescission or reformation of contracts, restitution, the refund of monies paid, disgorgement of ill-gotten monies, and other equitable relief,” the defendants allegedly violated the FTC Act and the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule (Regulation O) in their marketing and sale of mortgage relief services to distressed homeowners.

    The FTC claimed in its press release that the defendants “misrepresent[ed] the likelihood of success” of their mortgage payment reduction program and directed “confirmed” consumers to pay thousands of dollars in “closing costs” prior to discussing the defendants’ terms with their loan holders or servicers. Furthermore, the defendants allegedly discouraged consumers from communicating with their mortgage lenders and encouraged consumers to stop payments to their lenders without informing them that their actions could lead to foreclosure or damage their credit ratings.

    In granting the preliminary injunction, the court ruled that there was good cause to believe that, unless the defendants continued to be restrained and enjoined by order of the court, “the court’s ability to grant effective final relief in the form of monetary restitution and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains will suffer immediate and irreparable damage from [the] [d]efendants’ transfer, dissipation, or concealment of [a]ssets or business records.” Furthermore, the court found good cause to (i) appoint a temporary receiver; (ii) grant the FTC limited expedited discovery from third-parties related to assets; and (iii) freeze defendants’ assets.

     

    Courts FTC Mortgages FTC Act

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  • FTC and New York Attorney General announce orders banning debt collection operations from related activities

    Consumer Finance

    On March 22, the New York Attorney General’s office and the FTC announced settlements with the operators of an allegedly abusive debt collection scheme, resolving lawsuits filed in 2015. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to the FTC, the operators and associated companies allegedly violated the FTC Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and New York state laws prohibiting deceptive acts and practices by using abusive language and making false threats that consumers would be arrested or sued in order to collect the supposed debts. The stipulated final orders impose combined judgments of over $48.7 million to be partially suspended upon the surrender of certain assets, including more than $1 million in corporate and individual assets. In addition to barring the operators from the debt collection business and from buying or selling debt, the orders further prohibit them from misrepresenting financial products and services or benefiting from consumers’ personal information collected in connection with the challenged practices.

    Consumer Finance FTC State Attorney General Debt Collection FTC Act FDCPA Settlement

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  • FTC reaches $45.5 million settlement with companies over illegal telemarketing calls

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On March 16, the FTC and three Utah-based movie companies (defendants) agreed to a proposed stipulated final order settling charges that they violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). In 2011, the DOJ filed a complaint on behalf of the FTC, which alleged defendants engaged in abusive telemarketing practices by making more than 117 million deceptive and unlawful calls to consumers to pitch movies and induce DVD sales in violation of the TSR, including 99 million calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry. In 2016, a federal court jury found the defendants guilty of six TSR violations and collectively responsible for the more than 117 million unlawful calls alleged in the complaint. The jury additionally found that the defendants had “actual or implied knowledge of the TSR violations,” meaning that the court was allowed to assess civil penalties under the FTC Act. According to the FTC’s press release, this was the first-ever jury verdict in an action to enforce the TSR and DNC Registry rules.

    The proposed stipulated final order bans the defendants from engaging in the alleged misconduct, orders the defendants to train and monitor its solicitors to ensure compliance with the TSR, and imposes a $45.5 million civil money penalty, of which $487,735 is suspended unless it is determined that the financial statements defendants submitted to the FTC contain any inaccuracies.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FTC DOJ FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule Settlement

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  • FTC settles credit card laundering lawsuit

    Federal Issues

    On March 9, the FTC entered into a settlement with a credit card merchant and its individual officer (collectively, “defendants”) relating to an allegedly deceptive credit card telemarketing operation. According to the FTC’s amended complaint, the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales rule by assisting a telemarketing company in masking its identity by processing the company’s credit card payments through multiple fictitious companies. The FTC previously had banned the telemarketing company from selling fraudulent “work-at-home” opportunities in 2015. The settlement, among other things, prohibits the defendants from processing payments or acting as an independent sales organization. The order also stipulates a judgment of approximately $1.3 million, which will be suspended unless it is determined that the financial statements defendants submitted to the FTC contain any inaccuracies.

    Federal Issues Payment Processors FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule FTC Settlement

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  • FDIC fines Delaware-based bank for unfair and deceptive practices

    Consumer Finance

    On March 7, the FDIC announced that a Delaware-based bank agreed to settle allegations of unfair and deceptive practices in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act for assessing transaction fees in excess of what the bank previously had disclosed. The FDIC also found that the bank’s practices violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, the Truth in Savings Act, and the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act. According to the FDIC, from December 2010 through November 2014, the bank overcharged transaction fees to consumers who used prepaid and certain reloadable debit cards to make point-of-sale, signature-based transactions that did not require the use of a personal identification number. The transaction fees allegedly exceeded what the bank had disclosed to consumers. Under the terms of the settlement order, the bank will, among other things, (i) establish a $1.3 million restitution fund for eligible consumers; (ii) prepare a comprehensive restitution plan and retain an independent auditor to determine compliance with that plan; and (iii) provide the FDIC with quarterly written progress reports detailing its compliance with the settlement order. The settlement also requires the bank to pay a civil money penalty of $2 million.

    Consumer Finance FDIC UDAAP FTC Act EFTA Prepaid Cards Settlement

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  • FTC announces resolution of an action against the final defendant in a debt collection operation

    Consumer Finance

    On March 5, the FTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida entered a default judgment against the final defendant of a debt collection operation accused of violating the FTC Act and Fair Debt Collections Practices Act by allegedly posing as lawyers and threating individuals with lawsuits or prison time if they failed to pay debt they did not actually owe. (See InfoBytes coverage here on previously issued order against three other co-defendants.) Under the terms of the January 23 order, the defendant is prohibited from, among other things, (i) engaging in debt collection activities; (ii) buying or selling consumer or commercial debt; (iii) misrepresenting material facts regarding financial-related products or services; (iv) misrepresenting an affiliation with an attorney or law firm; (v) disclosing, using, or benefiting from consumers’ personal information; and (vi) improperly disposing of consumers’ information. In addition, the court assessed a $702,059 fine, jointly and severally with the co-defendants.

    Consumer Finance FTC Debt Collection Settlement FTC Act FDCPA

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  • Online payments system company settles FTC privacy, security, and money transfer allegations

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On February 23, the FTC announced a proposed settlement with a global online payments system company (company) to resolve a complaint filed in 2016 concerning allegations that its payment and social networking service (service) violated the FTC Act when it, among other things, failed to adequately disclose to consumers that transfers to external bank accounts were subject to review and that funds could be frozen or removed based on a review of the underlying transaction. According to FTC allegations, many consumers who relied on notifications from the service that funds were available for transfer found themselves unable to pay rent or other bills. In some instances, the service reversed transactions after initially notifying consumers the funds were available. Additionally, the service allegedly violated the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act’s Privacy and Safeguard Rules (GLBA Rules) by misleading consumers about protections for their accounts when it claimed to use “bank-grade security systems” and failed to have a written security program or implement basic security safeguards. As a result, the FTC claims unauthorized users were able to, in certain cases, withdraw funds from consumer accounts or change passwords and/or associated email addresses without consumers being notified.

    Under the proposed settlement, the company—which did not admit or deny liability and is not required to pay a fine—has agreed that it will not misrepresent any material restrictions on the use of its service, the extent of control provided by any privacy settings, and the extent to which it “implements or adheres to a particular level of security.” The company will also, among other things, make certain disclosures to consumers about its transaction and privacy practices, obtain biennial third-party assessments of its compliance with these rules for 10 years, and refrain from violating any provisions of the GLBA Rules.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FTC Peer-to-Peer Settlement Gramm-Leach-Bliley FTC Act

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  • FTC announces charges against mortgage loan modification operation

    Consumer Finance

    On January 19, the FTC issued a press release announcing charges against a mortgage loan modification operation for allegedly violating the FTC Act and the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule by making false promises to consumers for services designed to prevent foreclosures or reduce interest rates or monthly mortgage payments. According to the charges, the defendants contacted consumers using doctored government logos on correspondence, which misrepresented an affiliation with the government’s Making Home Affordable loan modification program. Additionally, the defendants allegedly made unlawful claims that they had “special relationships with particular lenders” and instructed consumers to stop paying their mortgages without actually obtaining the promised loan modifications. As alleged by the FTC, this resulted in many consumers paying substantial interest charges, incurring penalties for paying the defendants rather than making mortgage payments, and in some instances, losing their homes to foreclosure. On January 10, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada temporarily restrained and enjoined the defendants’ alleged illegal practices and froze their assets at the request of the FTC.

    Consumer Finance FTC Mortgages FTC Act

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  • FTC Settles With Dallas Auto Dealer for Alleged Deceptive Advertisements

    Lending

    On December 1, the FTC announced a proposed order to settle with a Dallas, Texas auto dealership for alleged deceptive advertisements containing loan and lease terms in Spanish-language newspapers. According to the FTC, the dealership violated the FTC Act by prominently displaying advantageous loan and lease terms in Spanish and qualifying those terms in smaller-print English at the bottom of the page. The FTC alleges the dealership misrepresented (i) the total cost of purchasing or leasing; (ii) the underwriting restrictions for the advertised loan or lease; and (iii) the availability of the inventory advertised. Additionally, the FTC alleged that the dealership violated Truth in Lending Act and the Consumer Leasing Act by failing to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose credit and lease terms. The proposal requires the dealership to cease the allegedly deceptive conduct and comply with all applicable advertisement regulations in the future. The proposal is published in the Federal Register and is open for public comment until January 2, 2018.

    Lending Auto Finance FTC Settlement FTC Act TILA CLA Federal Register

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  • Fed Fines Kansas State Bank for Alleged Deceptive Mortgage Acts

    Consumer Finance

    On November 28, the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) announced it had entered into a consent order with a Kansas state bank over allegations that the bank engaged in deceptive mortgage origination practices in violation of the FTC Act. Specifically, the order alleges that the bank told borrowers that they were paying for discount points that would lower their interest rate, but did not in fact provide those borrowers an interest rate reflective of the price paid for the discount points or, in some cases, a reduced rate at all. The Fed’s order requires the bank to pay restitution to the affected borrowers, but did not impose a further civil money penalty. The bank has decided to terminate all operations of its national mortgage business by year-end 2017.

    Consumer Finance Federal Reserve Mortgages FTC Act Settlement

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