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  • European Commission Releases First Annual E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield Review; Framework Works Well With Room for Improvement

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On October 18, the European Commission (Commission) released its first annual review of the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield (Privacy Shield) framework for transatlantic data transfers, citing the Privacy Shield “ensures an adequate level of protection for personal data,” but “there is some room for improving its implementation.” In the report, the Commission’s findings and conclusions cover topics including: (i) redress options for EU individuals; (ii) complaint handling and enforcement procedures to “safeguard individual rights”; (iii) cooperation with European Data protection authorities; and (iv) the process for  certifying companies under the Privacy Shield. However, the report also makes recommendations for improvement, such as (i) increasing U.S. oversight into whether U.S. companies are complying with the Privacy Shield’s requirements to protect European’s personal data; (ii) conducting regular reviews to ensure companies are not making false claims about their participation in the Privacy Shield; and (iii) establishing a closer means of communication between “privacy enforcers” to develop guidance.

    Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen commented on the Commission’s review: “Enforcing international privacy frameworks such as Privacy Shield is an integral part of our Privacy and Data Security program, as highlighted in three recently announced Privacy Shield enforcement actions. We look forward to continuing to work with our European counterparts to ensure that the Privacy Shield remains a robust mechanism for protecting privacy and enabling transatlantic data flows.” (See InfoBytes coverage of the three FTC enforcement actions here, and refer here for previous InfoBytes coverage of the Privacy Shield.)

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FTC Enforcement International

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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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  • FTC, State AGs Announce Nationwide Crackdown Against Student Loan Debt Relief Scams

    Lending

    On October 13, in partnership with 11 states and the District of Columbia, the FTC announced a federal-state law enforcement initiative to combat deceptive student loan debt relief scams. According to the FTC, “Operation Game of Loans” targets companies that engage in practices that harm student loan borrowers, such as allegedly (i) charging illegal upfront fees; (ii) making false or misleading statements promising, among other things, debt relief, loan forgiveness, reduced interest rates, and credit repair services; (iii) pretending to be affiliated with the government or loan servicers; (iv) engaging in deceptive marketing practices; (v) pocketing consumer fees rather than applying the money towards student loan balances; and (vi) charging consumers for document preparation services that are readily available to consumers for free. According to a press release issued by the FTC, the initiative “encompasses 36 actions by the FTC and state attorneys general against scammers alleged to have used deception and false promises of relief to take more than $95 million in illegal upfront fees from American consumers over a number of years.”

    That same day, as part of “Operation Game of Loans,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced a lawsuit against a pair of entities (defendants) accused of allegedly violating Illinois law by charging upfront fees for services guaranteed to “lower monthly student loan payments, improve credit scores, get students out of default, and negotiate tax and student loan debt adjustments.” The complaint further alleges that not only do the defendants lack the ability to provide the advertised services, they also allegedly impersonate students to gain access to students’ Federal Student Aid IDs (the federal government prohibits entities from accessing federal student aid websites even if authorized by the borrower), and fail to refund consumers—as promised—if they fail to provide debt relief. The complaint seeks injunctive relief, restitution, and civil penalties.

    Lending Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FTC State AG Student Lending Debt Settlement Enforcement Debt Relief

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  • Senate Special Committee Hearing Focuses on Continuing Efforts to Combat Illegal Robocalls

    Federal Issues

    On October 4, the Senate Special Committee on Aging (Committee) held a hearing entitled “Still Ringing Off the Hook: An Update on Efforts to Combat Robocalls” to discuss efforts to combat illegal robocalls. Committee Chairman Susan M. Collins (R-Me.) opened the hearing by reinforcing the importance of utilizing technology not only to block robocalls but to better understand the scams that continue to impact consumers. Sen. Collins also stressed the positive impact “aggressive law enforcement” has had on these efforts.

    According to a hearing-related press release issued by the FTC, the Commission received more than 3.4 million robocall complaints from consumers in 2016 and at least another 3.5 million complaints between January and August 2017. The FTC’s ongoing efforts to address these complaints include: (i) initiating enforcement actions targeting robocall violators; (ii) cooperating with law enforcement at the state, federal, and international level to develop solutions to prevent and detect calls; and (iii) as previously discussed in InfoBytes, publicly posting robocall numbers received from consumer complaints to help enable industry groups develop call-blocking solutions. The following four witnesses offered testimony on industry and state efforts to protect consumers from scams and increase education efforts.

    • Ms. Lois C. Greismann, Associate Director of the Division of Marketing Practices, Bureau of Consumer Protection, FTC (testimony);
    • The Honorable Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania Attorney General (testimony);
    • Mr. Kevin Rupy, Vice President for Law and Public Policy, USTelecom (testimony); and
    • Ms. Genie Barton, President, BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust (testimony).

    Federal Issues Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FTC Telemarketing Sales Rule U.S. Senate State AG

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  • FTC, Department of Education Announce Education Technology Workshop to Explore Privacy Issues

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On October 4, the FTC and the Department of Education issued a notice announcing a joint Ed Tech (education technology) workshop to examine the challenges concerning privacy implications as more schools are using school-issued personal computing devices. The workshop will discuss issues surrounding the FTC’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA) as it applies to schools and how it intersects with the Department of Education’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is designed to protect the privacy of students’ education records. The workshop, which is open to the public, will be held in Washington, D.C., on December 1.

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, the FTC made modifications to COPPA’s safe harbor program this past July that now require all participants to conduct a comprehensive annual internal assessment of any third-party or service provider that collects personal information from children on their websites or through online services, in addition to issuing updates in June regarding resources companies can use to ensure COPPA compliance.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FTC Department of Education COPPA

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  • FTC to Hold Informational Injury Workshop

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On September 29, the FTC announced it will host an “informational injury” workshop on December 12 to examine the types of injuries consumers face when information about them is misused , as well as the tradeoffs when collecting, using, or sharing consumers’ personal information. In preparation for the workshop, the FTC is seeking public input concerning a range of issues such as (i) the types of qualitative consumer injuries resulting from privacy and data security incidents; (ii) the best ways to assess or quantify injury; and (iii) the cost benefit analysis of collecting, using, and sharing information when facing potential injury. The FTC will accept comments through October 27.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FTC Enforcement

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  • FTC Launches Military Task Force Website, CFPB Blog Post Discusses Servicemember Debt Collection Rights

    Consumer Finance

    On September 25, the FTC launched a new website to showcase the work of the agency’s Military Task Force. The Military Task Force identifies the needs of military consumers and their families and develops initiatives such as workshops that examine financial issues and scams more likely to affect military consumers or training for military attorneys, law enforcement personnel, and financial advisors. (See previous InfoBytes summaries here and here.) The FTC reported in a press release that in 2016, servicemembers, their dependents, military retirees, and veterans submitted more than 100,000 consumer complaints, with retirees and veterans comprising approximately two-thirds of the complaints. The top complaints were imposter scams, identity theft, and debt collection. The new webpage includes links to resources for servicemembers and veterans, workshops, related FTC cases and other initiatives, and congressional testimony.

    On September 22, the CFPB published a blog post to discuss servicemembers’ debt collection rights and resources. According to the Bureau, as of August 1, 41 percent of servicemember complaints were related to debt collection, as compared to 26 percent of non-servicemember complaints. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects servicemembers from debt collectors who use abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect debts, but according to the Bureau, some military consumers claim they have received threats from debt collectors stating that they will report the debt to their commanding officer, have their rank reduced, or put their security clearance up for review. As the post notes, making false threats or disclosing debts to third parties without permission are violations of the FDCPA.

    Consumer Finance Servicemembers FTC CFPB FDCPA Consumer Complaints Debt Collection UDAAP

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  • FTC to Host Second Economic Liberty Task Force Public Roundtable to Discuss Licensure Requirements, Acting Chairman Testifies on Licensing Effects

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On September 11, the FTC announced its Economic Liberty Task Force (Task Force) will hold its second roundtable in Washington, DC on November 7, to examine the “economic and legal aspects of occupational licensing regulations” and the need for reform. The discussion will include input from economic and policy experts on licensing costs and benefits, and cover the ways licensure requirements affect employers, workers, consumers, and the overall economy. The Task Force notes that almost 30 percent of U.S. jobs now require some form of license, which, based on recent studies, causes the burden of “excessive occupational licensing” to disproportionally affect economically disadvantaged citizens—especially military families—and causes harm due to the “complexity and duplication of state-by-state licensing requirements and fees, combined with a lack of reciprocity among states.” An alternative policy approach, the Task Force notes, might include voluntary certification or other methods that would offer protection against unqualified service providers. Earlier this year, the Task Force held its first roundtable to discuss interstate license portability.

    In conjunction with the announcement of the roundtable, on September 12, Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law to describe the FTC’s efforts to study the effects of occupational licensing. Acting Chairman Ohlhausen’s written testimony emphasized the need for regulatory analysis and reform and cautioned that “excessive occupational licensing can leave consumers and workers worse off, by impeding competition without offering meaningful protection from legitimate health and safety risks.”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FTC Licensing House Judiciary Committee

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  • FTC Announces First EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Enforcement Actions Over False Certification Claims

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On September 8, the FTC announced settlements with three companies over allegations that they falsely claimed certification to take part in the European Union-U.S. Privacy Shield (EU-U.S. Privacy Shield) framework. These settlements mark the FTC’s first EU-U.S. Privacy Shield enforcement actions. In July 2016, the EU finalized and adopted 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. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) In separate complaints, the FTC alleges that a human resources software company, a printing services company, and a company that manages real estate leases for wireless companies, violated the FTC Act by falsely claiming that they were certified to participate in the EU-US Privacy Shield without having completed the certification process. According to the terms of the settlements as summarized in the FTC press release, the companies are all banned from “misrepresenting the extent to which they participate in any privacy or data security program sponsored by the government or any self-regulatory or standard-setting organization and must comply with FTC reporting requirements.”

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Enforcement FTC Settlement

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  • FTC Announces Two Separate Settlements to Resolve Allegedly Deceptive Telemarketing Schemes

    Consumer Finance

    On September 1, the FTC issued a press release announcing a settlement with a Utah-based operation and its owner (Defendants) to resolve allegations that the company had created merchant accounts to help telemarketers process consumer credit card transactions in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act) and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). According to the complaint, Defendants nominated individuals to serve as “principals” of straw companies, which then were used to open merchant accounts to assist telemarketers who did not meet the requirements or standards for opening the accounts on their own. The telemarketers, in turn, allegedly deceived consumers by making false promises regarding business opportunities that they claimed would generate substantial income, and processed credit card payments from consumers using the straw company merchant accounts for the allegedly “worthless opportunities.” Under the terms of the order, Defendants are permanently banned from the payment processing business, including acting as an independent sales organization or sales agent, and must pay a judgment of more than $3 million. The FTC suspended the judgment due to the Defendants’ inability to pay, but noted that it “will become due immediately if [Defendants] are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.”

    Separately on August 31, the FTC announced that a default judgment had been issued in a pending action brought against the operators of a deceptive telemarketing scheme who allegedly targeted Spanish-speaking consumers by pretending to be affiliated with the Peruvian government and deceived consumers by giving the impression that the calls were from emergency responders or by people the consumers had provided as references. The allegations, which violated the FTC Act and the TSR, claimed that consumers were presented opportunities to participate in language courses at discounted prices and were misled about prizes they had won. When consumers declined to participate or cancelled delivery of the prizes, the telemarketers made “false and threatening” claims of “legal or financial consequences,” allegedly posing as lawyers or government officials. Under the terms of the default judgment, the telemarketers (i) are ordered to pay $6.3 million as equitable monetary relief; (ii) are banned from telemarketing activities; and (iii) prohibited from misrepresenting material facts.

    Consumer Finance FTC Enforcement Telemarketing Sales Rule FTC Act Settlement

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