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  • CFPB Initiates Complaint Against Company for Deceptive, Unfair, and Abusive Loan Collection Practices

    Consumer Finance

    On November 15, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint against a Texas-based service provider, alleging that it had assisted in the collection of loans that were, in whole or in part, void under state law. The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana alleges that the service provider, which provided services to three tribal lending entities engaged in the business of extending online installment loans and lines of credit, along with two companies responsible for the collection process (collectively defendants), assisted in the collection of loans that consumers were not legally obligated to pay based on identified states’ usury laws or licensing requirements. Although the specific claims vary by defendant, the complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in deceptive, unfair, and abusive acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) by:

    • misrepresenting that consumers were responsible for money owed on loans that were void in whole or in part, or did not exist, because the loans were void under state licensing or usury laws (voided loans);
    • demanding repayment from consumers on voided loans by issuing “demand letters,” electronically debiting funds from consumer bank accounts, and placing phone calls to consumers;
    • failing to disclose to consumers that defendants had no legal right to collect on certain voided loans and that consumers were not legally obligated to repay the loans;
    • causing injury to consumers by servicing and collecting on the voided loans;
    • taking advantage of consumers’ “lack of understanding” regarding the voided loans; and
    • providing assistance in, or administering, the origination and collection of the voided loans.

    The CFPB is seeking monetary relief, civil money penalties, injunctive relief, and a prohibition of the service provider’s ability to commit future violations of the CFPA.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Debt Collection Installment Loans UDAAP CFPA

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  • CFPB Requests Comments on Overdraft Disclosures; CFPB Announces Final Language Access Plan; Holds Ceiling at $12.00 for Allowable FCRA Charges

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On November 15, the CFPB published a request for comment on a proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to conduct online testing of point of sale/ATM (POS/ATM) overdraft disclosure forms. In the request, the Bureau invited comments on, (i) “[w]hether the collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the Bureau, including whether the information will have practical utility”; (ii) “[t]he accuracy of the Bureau’s estimate of the burden of the collection of information, including the validity of the methods and the assumptions used”; (iii) “[w]ays to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected”; and (iv) “[w]ays to minimize the burden of the collection of information on respondents, including through the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology.” Comments must be received by January 16, 2018.

    On November 16, the CFPB released the final version of its Language Access Plan (Plan) to provide non-English speaking persons access to its programs and services. The Plan highlights two key language access functions of the Bureau: offering translated consumer-facing brochures and handling complaints from consumers in multiple languages. The Bureau originally proposed the Plan in 2014 (covered previously by InfoBytes). The final Plan is current as of November 13, 2017.

    CFPB also announced on November 16 that the maximum allowable charges for certain disclosures under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) will remain at the current level. Each year the original amount referenced in the FCRA must be readjusted (and rounded to the nearest fifty cents) based on the annual percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). The amount for 2018, based on the annual percentage increase in the CPI-U, remains unchanged at $12.00.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FCRA CFPB Consumer Finance Federal Register Consumer Education

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  • 50-State Class Action Complaint Filed Against Credit Reporting Company in Response to September Data Breach Announcement

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On November 10, plaintiffs, and the members of the class and subclasses they seek to represent, filed a complaint in the Northern District of Georgia against a major credit reporting company, consolidating individual suits filed against the company since September in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs allege that the company’s data breach (covered previously in InfoBytes)—in which hackers exploited a website application vulnerability to access names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, as well as roughly 209,000 credit card numbers—has led to, among other things, identity theft, unauthorized credit and debit card charges, and applications for unauthorized student loans.

    The complaint alleges a series of missteps by the company before, during, and after the breach, including: (i) not applying a recommended security patch; (ii) failing to recognize the breach for over three months; (iii) not warning consumers for another month after discovering the breach, thus preventing timely credit freezes or other protection methods; (iv) sending confusing emails and notices to consumers about whose data was compromised and how to protect themselves after the breach; and (v) creating confusion as to whether an arbitration clause included in the terms of service for the company’s credit monitoring website would apply to consumers using the service.

    The plaintiffs seek, among other things, class certification; permanent injunctive relief; disgorgement and restitutions of earnings; compensatory, consequential, general, statutory, and punitive damages; declaratory relief; and attorneys’ fees.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach Consumer Finance Class Action State Issues

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  • CFPB Publishes Two RFIs Concerning Free Access to Credit Scores

    Consumer Finance

    On November 13, the CFPB’s Office of Financial Education (OFE) published two requests for information (RFI) in the Federal Register concerning free access to credit scores. The first RFI requests information related to (i) consumers’ experience when accessing free credit scores, and (ii) the experience of companies and nonprofits when offering free access to credit scores to their customers and the general public. The Bureau plans to use the information gathered through the RFI to, among other things, “identify educational content that is providing the most value to consumers, and additional educational content that the Bureau or others could develop to increase consumers’ understanding of credit scores and credit reports.” Comments must be received by February 12, 2018.

    The second RFI requests information on companies that provide existing customers free access to a credit score.  This information will be used to update OFE’s March 2017 list of companies that offer this service. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Following its update to the list, the CFPB intends to publish information “to educate consumers about the availability of credit scores and credit reports and how this information can be used effectively.” Comments must be received by January 12, 2018.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Credit Scores Federal Register

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  • DOJ Sues Washington State Company for Alleged SCRA Violations

    Consumer Finance

    On November 9, the DOJ filed a complaint in the Western District of Washington against a Washington company for allegedly foreclosing on servicemembers’ homes in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). According to the DOJ’s complaint, its investigation uncovered at least 28 unlawful non-judicial foreclosures. In addition to a declaration that the company violated the SCRA, the DOJ is seeking monetary damages, a civil penalty, and injunctive relief.

    The allegations stem from an investigation the DOJ initiated into the company’s foreclosure practices following the same court’s dismissal of a private SCRA action brought by a veteran on the ground that it was time-barred. Prior to the DOJ initiating the investigation, the veteran appealed the dismissal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The DOJ filed an amicus brief in that appeal, arguing that private SCRA suits are governed by the four-year federal catch-all statute of limitations.

    Consumer Finance DOJ SCRA Foreclosure Mortgages

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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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  • District Court Upholds $60 Million Jury Verdict for Credit Reporting Agency’s Use of OFAC Alert

    Courts

    On November 7, the Northern District Court of California upheld a $60 million jury verdict against a credit reporting agency regarding the use of its OFAC Alert (previously covered by InfoBytes). The verdict stems from a 2012 class action lawsuit in which the plaintiffs allege the defendant had failed to distinguish law-abiding citizens from drug traffickers, terrorists, and other criminals with similar names found on the Treasury Department’s OFAC database. Following the defendants motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, the district court agreed with the jury’s findings that the defendants (i) “willfully fail[ed] to follow reasonable procedures to assure the maximum possible accuracy of the OFAC information it associated with members of the class’’; (ii) “willfully failed to clearly and accurately disclose OFAC information in the written disclosures it sent to members of the class”; and (iii) “failed to provide class members a summary of their FCRA rights with each written disclosure made to them.”

    Courts FCRA OFAC Credit Reporting Agency Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB Takes Action Against Largest Debt Settlement Provider

    Consumer Finance

    On November 9, the CFPB announced the filing of a complaint against the largest debt settlement provider in the country and its co-CEO for allegedly deceiving consumers about its debt settlement services. According to the complaint, the defendants engaged in deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Consumer Financial Protection Act by:

    • misleading consumers about the settlement provider’s ability to negotiate with creditors that the settlement provider knew maintained policies against working with settlement companies;
    • instructing consumers to mislead creditors when asked about their participation in a debt settlement program;
    • leading consumers to believe the defendants would negotiate on their behalf when, in fact, some consumers were only “coached” on how to negotiate settlements on their own;
    • misleading consumers by charging them the full fee when creditors stop collection efforts without the defendants taking any action despite advertising that the fee is only charged if settlement is negotiated by the settlement provider and payments begin under the terms of a settlement; and
    • failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose consumers’ rights to refunds from their deposit accounts if they leave the settlement program.

    The CFPB is seeking monetary relief, civil money penalties, and injunctive relief against the defendants.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Debt Collection Enforcement Debt Settlement Telemarketing Sales Rule CFPA

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  • Federal Reserve Releases Survey on Bank Lending Practices

    Lending

    On November 6, the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) released its October 2017 Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices. Responses came from both domestic banks and U.S. branches and agencies of foreign banks, and focused on bank loans made to businesses and households over the past three months. The October survey results indicated that over the third quarter of 2017, on balance, lenders eased their standards on commercial and industrial loans with demand for such loans decreasing. However, lenders left their standards on commercial real estate (CRE) loans unchanged and reported that demand for CRE loans weakened. As to loans to households, banks reported that standards for all categories of residential real estate (RRE) lending “either eased or remained basically unchanged,” and that the demand for RRE loans also weakened.

    The survey also included two sets of special questions addressing changes in household lending conditions.

    The first set of these special questions asked banks to specify the reasons for changing this year their credit policies on credit card and auto loans to prime and subprime borrowers. Respondents’ most reported reasons for tightening standards or terms on these types of loans were (i) “a less favorable or more uncertain economic outlook”; (ii) “a deterioration or expected deterioration in the quality of their existing loan portfolio”; and (iii) “a reduced tolerance for risk.” Auto loan reasons also focused on “less favorable or more uncertain expectations regarding collateral values.”

    The second set of these special questions asked banks for their views as to why they have experienced stronger or weaker demand for credit card and auto loans over this year. Respondents’ reported that a strengthening of demand for credit card and auto loans from prime borrowers could be attributed to customers’ confidence as well as their improved ability to manage debt service burdens. The most reported reasons for weakened demand for credit card and auto loans from prime borrowers were an increase in interest rates and a shift in customers’ borrowing “from their bank to other bank or nonbank sources.”

    For additional details see:

    Lending Federal Reserve Consumer Lending Auto Finance Credit Cards Consumer Finance

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  • FDIC Chairman Speaks About Financial Inclusion

    Federal Issues

    On November 7, the Chairman of the FDIC, Martin J Gruenberg, addressed the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in New York, New York regarding financial inclusion and expanding economic opportunity for the underbanked. In his speech, Gruenberg discussed the agency’s most recent report, FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, which found that nearly 27 percent of American households are unbanked or underbanked.  Gruenberg also highlighted the initiatives the agency has undertaken to address the results of this report, including (i) creating access to “Safe Accounts,” which are electronic transaction accounts with low costs; (ii) conducting research on mobile financial services and how technology can lead to more sustainable banking relationships; and (iii) continuing financial education initiatives with a particular focus on youth savings.

    Federal Issues FDIC Consumer Finance Mobile Banking Consumer Education

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