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  • Georgia Attorney General reaches settlement with mortgage company to resolve allegations concerning unauthorized third-party fees

    State Issues

    On August 1, the Georgia Attorney General announced a settlement with a New Jersey-based mortgage company to resolve allegations that it charged unauthorized fees to Georgia consumers in violation of the state’s Fair Business Practices Act. According to the Attorney General’s office, the company allegedly marketed various third-party products and services, such as insurance products and home warranty programs, for certain mortgages it serviced and added the charges for these products and services to consumers’ monthly mortgage bills without their knowledge. Under the settlement terms, the company is required to (i) comply with the Fair Business Practices Act; (ii) refrain from soliciting third-party products and/or services to Georgia consumers; (iii) cease all billing for the alleged third-party products and services; (iv) notify consumers currently being billed for the alleged third-party products and services that the remainder of their contracts may be cancelled without penalty; (v) pay $25,000 in restitution; and (vi) pay $50,000 to the Attorney General’s office to go towards fees, penalties, investigation and litigation costs, and future consumer protection and education costs.

    State Issues State Attorney General Enforcement Fees Consumer Finance Settlement

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  • District Court denies service provider’s motion to dismiss on several grounds, rules Bureau’s structure is constitutional

    Courts

    On August 3, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana denied a Texas-based service provider’s motion to dismiss a suit brought by the CFPB over allegations that the service provider engaged in unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts or practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) by assisting three tribal lenders in the improper collection of short-term, small-dollar loans that were, in whole or in part, void under state law. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The defendants moved to dismiss the claims on multiple grounds: (i) the Bureau’s structure is unconstitutional; (ii) the claims are not permitted under the CFPA; (iii) the complaint “fails to, and cannot, join indispensable parties;” and (iv) certain claims are time-barred.

    In answering the service provider’s challenges to the Bureau’s constitutionality, the court ruled that the CFPB’s structure is legal and cited to orders from nine district courts and an en banc panel of the D.C. Circuit Court, which also rejected similar arguments. (See Buckley Sandler Special Alert.) Addressing whether the Bureau’s claims were permitted under the CFPA, the court ruled that other courts have held that enforcing a prohibition on amounts that consumers do not owe is different from establishing a usury limit, and that moreover, “[t]he fact that state law may underlie the violation . . . does not relieve [d]efendants . . . of their obligation to comply with the CFPA.” Regarding the defendants’ argument that the complaint should be dismissed on the grounds of failure to join an indispensable party because the tribal lenders possess sovereign immunity to the suit, the court wrote that “[u]nder these circumstances, the Court will not create a means for businesses to avoid regulation by hiding behind the sovereign immunity of tribes when the tribes themselves have failed to claim an interest in the litigation.” Furthermore, the court found that the remedies sought by the Bureau would not “impede the [t]ribal [l]enders’ ability to collect on their contracts or enforce their choice of law provisions directly.” Finally, the court stated that, among other things, the service provider failed to show that the Bureau’s suit fell outside the CFPA’s three-year statute of limitations for filing claims after violations have been identified.

    Courts CFPB Consumer Finance CFPA Consumer Lending Usury State Issues

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  • FDIC releases 25th anniversary edition of FDIC Consumer News

    Consumer Finance

    On August 3, the FDIC published a special edition of its quarterly FDIC Consumer News publication, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the newsletter, titled “25 Years of Tips You Can Bank On: Time-Tested Strategies for Managing and Protecting Your Money.” The quarterly newsletter intends to deliver “timely, reliable and innovative tips and information” about financial matters to consumers. The special edition reprises and updates an old article from each year going back to 1993 and includes topics such as (i) retirement planning and saving; (ii) how to know what is FDIC insured; (iii) minimizing the risk of identity theft; (iv) refinancing loans; and (v) cybersecurity checklists.

    Consumer Finance FDIC Consumer Education

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  • FTC announces charges against auto dealerships for falsifying consumer information on auto financing documents

    Lending

    On August 1, the FTC announced charges against a group of four auto dealers (defendants) with locations in Arizona and New Mexico near the Navajo Nation’s border alleging, among other things, that the defendants advertised misleading discounts and incentives through their vehicle advertisements, and falsely inflated consumers’ income and down payment information on certain financing applications. The charges brought against the defendants allege violations of the FTC Act, the Truth in Lending Act, and the Consumer Leasing Act. According to the complaint, by allegedly falsifying the customers’ income and down payments, the defendants “inaccurately made consumers appear more creditworthy” on the false financing applications. Moreover, the FTC claims the defendants often prevented consumers from reviewing the falsified information provide in the financing applications prior to signing. As a result, credit was extended to consumers—many of whom are members of the Navajo Nation—who then subsequently “defaulted at a higher rate than properly qualified buyers.” Furthermore, the complaint asserts that the defendants’ deceptive advertising practices concealed the true nature and terms of the financing or leasing offers, and were in violation of federal law for failing to disclose the required terms. The complaint seeks, among other remedies, a permanent injunction to prevent future violations, restitution, and disgorgement.

    Lending Consumer Finance FTC Auto Finance FTC Act TILA Consumer Leasing Act

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  • FTC halts fraudulent telemarketing scheme in Arizona

    Consumer Finance

    On July 31, the FTC announced that it had successfully halted a $3 million telemarketing scheme, which falsely promised to obtain grants for consumers in exchange for the upfront payment of fees. The FTC alleges the Arizona-based defendants charged consumers upfront fees ranging from $295 to $4,995 and promised to obtain $10,000 or more in government, corporate, or private grants that could help the consumers pay off personal expenses such as medical bills. However, “most, if not all,” consumers ultimately received nothing in return and the defendants often changed the company name once they received consumer complaints or state attorney general notices, or once they lost merchant accounts.

    On July 16, the FTC filed a now-unsealed complaint with the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The FTC simultaneously sought a temporary restraining order (TRO), which the court granted the following day. Among other things, the TRO prohibits the defendants from: (i) conducting similar business activities; (ii) violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule; and (iii) using or disseminating consumer information obtained through the fraudulent activities. Additionally, the TRO freezes the defendants’ assets and places the companies in receivership until relief is determined.

    Consumer Finance FTC Federal Issues Courts Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • Illinois amends law to clarify that debt collection law firms are not student loan servicers

    State Issues

    On July 27, Illinois’s Governor signed HB 4397, which amends the state’s Student Loan Servicing Rights Act to specify that the definition of “student loan servicer” does not include a law firm or a licensed attorney that is collecting a post-default debt. The amended law is effective December 31.

    State Issues Student Lending State Legislation Student Loan Servicer Consumer Finance

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  • FTC testifies before House subcommittees about combating consumer fraud

    Federal Issues

    On July 26, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith, testified before subcommittees of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the FTC’s program to combat consumer fraud. The prepared testimony discusses the FTC’s anti-fraud program and highlights the agency’s enforcement actions against illicit companies that pose as government agents, such as the IRS, to convince consumers and small businesses to send them money. The FTC touts the steps taken to spur development of technological solutions to unlawful robocalls, including call-blocking and call-filtering products. The testimony also focuses on the FTC’s efforts to curb payment processors from assisting fraudulent actors in violation of the FTC Act. The FTC notes that the Commission has brought 25 actions against payment processors that failed to comply with requirements to ensure their systems were not being used to process fraudulent merchant transactions. The FTC emphasized that while the “overwhelming majority” of payment processors abide by the law, when certain processors do not, they cause “significant economic harm to consumers and legitimate businesses.”

    Federal Issues Payment Processors Consumer Finance Fraud Robocalls FTC FTC Act U.S. House

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  • Federal Reserve fines Kentucky-based bank $4.75 million for FTC Act violations

    Federal Issues

    On July 26, the Federal Reserve Board (Board) announced a settlement with a Kentucky-based bank for allegedly violating section 5 of the FTC Act regarding its offering of deposit account add-on products to consumers. According to the consent order, the bank marketed certain add-on products to accountholders, including an identity protection product, and represented that all benefits of the products would be effective upon enrollment when in actuality, certain benefits needed to be individually activated after enrollment. The Board alleges the bank charged the enrolled accountholders fixed monthly fees for the full benefits of the products without adequately disclosing to accountholders how to receive all the associated benefits. In addition to the $4.75 million the bank must pay in restitution, the consent order also requires the bank to, among other things (i) submit written plans to strengthen the oversight of the compliance management program and enhance the consumer compliance risk management program; (ii) hire an independent auditor to verify the restitution has been made; and (iii) submit quarterly progress reports regarding compliance with the consent order.

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve Enforcement Settlement Consumer Finance

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  • Federal Reserve Board launches inaugural Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On July 26, the Federal Reserve Board released its inaugural Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin (Bulletin) to share information about the agency’s supervisory observations and other noteworthy developments related to consumer protection, and provide practical steps for banking organizations to consider when addressing consumer compliance risk. The first Bulletin focuses on fair lending issues related to the practice of redlining and outlines key risk factors the Fed considers in its review, such as (i) whether a bank’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) assessment areas inappropriately exclude minority census tracts; (ii) whether a bank’s Home Mortgage Disclosure Act or CRA lending data show “statistically significant disparities in majority minority census tracts when compared with similar lenders”; or (iii) whether the bank’s branches, loan production offices, or marketing strategies appear to exclude majority minority census tracts. Practical steps for mitigating redlining risk are also provided. The Bulletin also discusses fair lending risk related to mortgage pricing discrimination against minority borrowers, small dollar loan pricing that discriminates against minorities and women, disability discrimination, and maternity leave discrimination.

    The Bulletin additionally addresses unfair or deceptive acts or practices risks related to overdrafts, misrepresentations made by loan officers, and the marketing of student financial products and services. The Bulletin also highlights regulatory and policy developments related to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s updated Uniform Interagency Consumer Compliance Rating System along with recent changes to the Military Lending Act.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Reserve Bank Supervision Redlining Fair Lending Consumer Finance Military Lending Act FFIEC HMDA CRA Overdraft

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  • Federal Reserve chair delivers semi-annual congressional testimony, discusses U.S. financial conditions and regulatory relief act

    Federal Issues

    On July 17, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee and spoke the next day before the House Financial Services Committee. In his semi-annual congressional testimony, Powell presented the Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy Report, and discussed the current economic situation, job market, inflation levels, and the federal funds rate. Powell stressed, among other things, that interest rates and financial conditions remain favorable to growth and that the financial system remains in a good position to meet household and business credit needs. Chairman of the Committee, Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, remarked in his opening statement that, while recent economic developments are encouraging, an effort should be made to focus on reviewing, improving, and tailoring regulations to be consistent with the recently passed Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act S.2155/P.L. 115-174 (the Act). During the hearing, Powell confirmed that the Fed plans to implement provisions of the Act as soon as possible. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) When questioned by Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, about the direction the Fed plans to take to address stress test concerns, Powell responded that the Fed is committed to using stress tests, particularly for the largest, most systemically important institutions, and that going forward, the Fed wants to strengthen the tests and make the process more transparent. Powell also indicated the Fed intends to “publish for public comment the range of factors [the Fed] can consider” when applying prudential standards. Powell also stated that he believes government-sponsored-enterprise reform would help the economy in the long term.

    When giving testimony to the House Financial Services Committee, Powell also commented that cryptocurrency does not currently impair the Fed’s work on monetary policy and that the Fed will not seek jurisdiction over cryptocurrency and instead will defer to the SEC’s oversight as well as Treasury’s lead to identify the right regulatory structure.

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve SEC Cryptocurrency Stress Test Consumer Finance S. 2155 Senate Banking Committee House Financial Services Committee

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