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  • SEC settles RMBS supervision and improper markup allegations with brokerage firm

    Securities

    On June 12, the SEC issued an order against a brokerage firm to settle allegations that it violated antifraud provisions of federal securities laws when it failed to properly supervise traders who persuaded customers with false or misleading statements to overpay for residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). According to the SEC, the firm misled customers about how much the firm paid for the securities and illegally profited from the improper markups that were, in some cases, allegedly more than twice as much as what the customers should have paid. The order claims that the firm did not charge a traditional commission on the transactions, but rather derived profits “from the difference between the price at which [the firm] sold securities and the price at which it had purchased them.” Additionally, while the firm had policies and procedures to monitor and prevent excessive markups on RMBS transactions, they were “not reasonably designed and implemented.” While neither admitting nor denying the SEC’s charges, the firm agreed to be censured for failing reasonably to supervise its traders, to pay a fine of approximately $5.2 million, and to pay more than $10.5 million in disgorgement and interest to affected customers.

    Securities SEC RMBS Settlement Enforcement

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  • FTC settles with North Carolina-based debt collection business and its principals

    Consumer Finance

    On June 4, the FTC announced settlements with a North Carolina-based debt collection business and its principals resolving allegations that the business violated the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by making false, unsubstantiated, or misleading representations regarding debt owed on payday loans or other debts and threatening legal action. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the business allegedly used a variety of “trade names” that sound like law firms to threaten individuals if they failed to pay debt they did not actually owe or that the defendants had no right to collect. The terms of the settlement call for a $2.7 million judgment against the business and one of the principals, as well as a $1.8 million judgment against the remaining principal, with all parties jointly and severally liable for approximately $1.6 million. The judgments will be partially suspended after defendants surrender certain assets. The settlements also prohibit all defendants from debt collection activities as well as from buying or selling debt in the future.

    Consumer Finance Debt Collection FTC Act Enforcement Settlement

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  • California branch sentenced in BSA/AML obstruction case

    Financial Crimes

    On May 18, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California sentenced a Netherlands-based financial institution’s U.S. subsidiary for “impairing, impeding and obstructing” the OCC during its 2012 examination by concealing deficiencies in its Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance programs. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the branch plead guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Government and agreed to pay over $368 million as a result of allowing “hundreds of millions of dollars in untraceable cash, sourced from Mexico and elsewhere, to be deposited into its rural bank branches” without conducting adequate BSA/AML review. In addition to the February plea agreement, the court sentenced the bank to a two-year term of probation and fined the bank $500,000, the maximum statutory fine.

    Financial Crimes OCC DOJ Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Settlement

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  • Maryland announces settlement with mortgage servicer over property inspection fees

    State Issues

    On May 14, the Maryland Attorney General announced a settlement with a mortgage loan servicer to resolve allegations that it charged homeowners illegal inspection fees. According to the announcement, the servicer allegedly charged borrowers for property inspections that were done when the borrower was in default on their payments, in violation of a Maryland law, which prohibits passing on such inspection costs. The mortgage servicer ceased the practice in 2014  for forward mortgages and in 2016 for reverse mortgages, according to the Attorney General’s office. The settlement requires the mortgage servicer to (i) refrain from engaging in the same practice in the future; (ii) complete the return of almost $1 million in collected inspection fees; and (iii) pay nearly $500,000 in penalties and costs.

    State Issues Mortgage Servicing Settlement Home Inspection State Attorney General

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  • Court preliminarily approves $80 million settlement for shareholders after global internet company data breach

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On May 9, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted a preliminary approval of a settlement between a global internet media company and its shareholders over alleged securities law violations related to cybersecurity breaches in 2013 and 2014. The $80 million settlement resolves a consolidated shareholder action accusing the company of making misleading statements to shareholders about the company’s data security. According to the order, the settlement applies to all shareholders who acquired the company’s securities between April 30, 2013 and December 14, 2016. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the company was recently ordered by the SEC to pay $35 million to resolve allegations related to the same cybersecurity incidents.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Securities Data Breach Settlement SEC

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  • Global internet media company fined $35 million for cybersecurity breach disclosures

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On April 24, the SEC ordered a global internet media company, acquired in 2017 by a global communications company, to pay $35 million to settle claims alleging that the company failed to disclose a 2014 cybersecurity breach in which Russian hackers stole data from over 500 million user accounts. Compromised private user information included usernames, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, passwords, and security questions and answers. According to the SEC’s cease-and-desist order, during the two years following the breach, the internet media company (i) failed to inform outside counsel or auditors of the breach in order to assess public filing disclosure obligations; (ii) failed to maintain internal disclosure controls and procedures designed to guarantee that the company’s information security team reports addressing actual data breaches, or the risk of such breaches, were properly and timely assessed for potential disclosure; and (iii) made misleading statements in its public filings that warned investors only of the “risk of potential future data breaches” without disclosing the 2014 data breach. The SEC claimed that the disclosure violations continued as acquisition discussions were held in 2016 and resulted in renegotiation of the terms of the company’s sale, including a 7.25 percent reduction in price. The company ultimately disclosed the breach to the public in September of 2016. In agreeing to the settlement, the company neither admitted nor denied the SEC’s findings, except as to the SEC’s jurisdiction over the matter.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach Settlement SEC Disclosures

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  • New Mexico Attorney General announces settlement with payment card companies to resolve excessive interchange fees

    State Issues

    On April 18, the New Mexico Attorney General’s office announced a $3.4 million settlement with the country’s two largest payment card networks to resolve allegations that the companies charged excessive interchange fees during credit and debit card transactions. In 2014, the state filed a lawsuit claiming that the companies’ conduct violated New Mexico’s Antitrust Act and Unfair Practices Act along with various common law theories, including unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy. According to the terms of the settlement, the companies are required to pay a total of $3.4 million into the state’s settlement fund for “law enforcement efforts to prevent and prosecute financial fraud or unfair or deceptive acts or practices, including anti-competitive behavior, and to investigate, enforce, and prosecute other illegal conduct related to financial services or consumer protection and antitrust laws.” In agreeing to the terms of the settlement, the companies did not admit any liability or wrongdoing, did not admit the truth of any allegations or circumstances, and did not waive any defenses.

    State Issues State Attorney General Credit Cards Debit Cards Settlement

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  • CFPB and OCC fine national bank $1 billion for mortgage and auto lending practices

    Federal Issues

    On April 20, the CFPB, in coordination with the OCC, announced a $1 billion settlement with a national bank for certain auto and mortgage lending practices the bank had previously discontinued and for which voluntary consumer remediation was initiated by the bank. According to the CFPB consent order, the Bureau alleged the bank inappropriately (i) charged fees for mortgage rate-lock extensions, and (ii) operated a force-placed insurance program in connection with auto loans. Specifically, the CFPB alleged that the bank sometimes charged rate lock extension fees to consumers when it should have absorbed the fees. With respect to auto loans, the Bureau alleged that, due to issues with the vendor employed to monitor for insurance and issue insurance if not maintained by the consumer, certain consumers paid for force-placed insurance premiums and interest that may not have been required resulting in potential consumer harm. The CFPB consent order acknowledges that the bank voluntarily discontinued the above practices and has voluntarily begun consumer remediation. Under the terms of both of the consent orders, the bank will remediate affected consumers and will implement necessary changes to its compliance risk-management program.

    Federal Issues CFPB OCC Settlement Auto Finance Mortgages Rate Lock Force-placed Insurance

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  • U.S. imposes denial of export privileges on Chinese telecom giant for violating prior settlement agreement

    Financial Crimes

    On April 16, the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed a denial of export privileges on Chinese telecommunications equipment corporation for violating a previous settlement relating to illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. As previously covered in InfoBytes, in March 2017, the company agreed to a combined civil and criminal penalty and to forfeiture of over $1.1 billion for shipping the equipment, making false statements, and obstructing justice. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to a seven-year suspended denial of export privileges, which would trigger if the agreement was not met or if the company committee further violations.

    The Department imposed the denial after determining that the company made false statements during the 2016 settlement negotiations and again during the probationary period in 2017 related to disciplinary actions against senior employees that the company said it was taking or had already taken. The false statements covered up the fact that the company had actually failed to issue letters of reprimand and paid full bonuses to the employees who had engaged in illegal conduct.

    Financial Crimes Settlement Department of Commerce North Korea China International

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  • Bank and shareholders reach settlement over BSA/AML compliance allegations

    Securities

    On March 30, a regional bank reached a $13 million settlement with a group of its shareholders over allegations of misleading statements and omissions regarding the bank’s compliance with fair lending laws, and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations. The shareholders—purchasers of the bank’s stock between July 2013 and July 2014—allege that the bank’s misrepresentations regarding their compliance with BSA/AML laws, as well as other laws and regulations, artificially inflated the price of the bank’s stock. According to the settlement, both parties’ decisions to enter into the agreement were partially due to the length and expense of continued litigation, which began in 2014. The shareholders initiated the class action litigation in July 2014; however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit vacated the initial class certification in September 2016, remanding to the district court for further proceedings. The class was recertified by the district court in June 2017 with the 6th Circuit denying the bank’s petition for appeal of the recertification. The bank denies all allegations of wrongdoing and liability in the settlement.

    Securities Settlement Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Appellate Sixth Circuit Class Action

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