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  • FTC issues annual summary of consumer complaints

    Federal Issues

    On March 1, the FTC issued its annual summary on consumer complaints received by the agency over the past year, highlighting trends in various categories such as fraud and identity theft. The report, Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017 (2017 Data Book), provides category breakdowns and national and state specific data extrapolated from the Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN)—a secure online database of millions of consumer complaints available only to law enforcement agencies. In compiling the 2017 Data Book, CSN collected and analyzed nearly 2.7 million consumer complaints—a decrease from the nearly 3 million complaints it received in 2016. However, total loses reported for 2017 increased by $63 million to nearly $905 million in total losses due to fraud.

    The 2017 Data Book provides a breakdown of complaints sorted into 30 top categories. Highlights include the following:

    • States. Florida, Georgia, and Nevada were the top states for fraud complaints, while Michigan, Florida, and California were the top states for identity theft complaints. 
    • Top categories. While there were 1.1 million fraud reports filed overall (42.5 percent of all reports), debt collection remained the top complaint in 2017, amounting to 22.7 percent of all complaints. Identity theft (13.8 percent) and imposter scams (13 percent) rounded out the top three. “While we received fewer overall complaints in 2017, consumers reported losing more money to fraud than they did the year before,” said Tom Pahl, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in a press release issued by the agency. “This underscores the importance of the FTC’s work in educating consumers and cracking down on the scammers who try to take their money.” Rounding out the top ten consumer complaints for 2017 were: telephone and mobile services; banks and lenders; prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries; shop-at-home and catalog sales; credit bureaus, information furnishers, and report users, auto related complaints, and television and electronic media.
    • Military. Fraud and identify theft were the largest category of complaints from military consumers—the majority reporting imposter scams, credit card fraud, and bank fraud. Military retirees and veterans submitted the highest number of reports. 
    • Fraud losses by age. The 2017 Data Book includes data broken out by age groups for the first time. Younger consumers aged 20-29 reported losing money to fraud more than consumers over age 70, but for older consumers who reported losing money, the median amount lost was greater.

    Additional information about the 2017 Data Book is available here.

    Federal Issues FTC Consumer Finance Consumer Complaints Consumer Education Fraud Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • International bank and head trader settle with SEC for CMBS fraud


    On February 12, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it reached an agreement with an international bank and its former head trader for allegedly selling commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) to customers by using false and misleading statements. The bank has agreed to repay more than $3.7 million to the affected customers According to the order, the bank misled customers about the original purchase price of the CMBS and failed to institute proper compliance and surveillance procedures in order to detect and prevent the misconduct. Additionally, the order states that the bank’s former head trader failed to properly supervise the traders making the allegedly false statements and failed to take appropriate action when he became aware of the statements.

    In addition to the customer repayment, the bank has agreed to pay a $750,000 civil money penalty to the SEC, while the former head trader has agreed to a $165,000 civil money penalty and a 12-month suspension from the securities industry. According to the SEC, the settlement amounts reflect substantial cooperation by both parties during the investigation and remedial efforts taken by the bank to improve surveillance and compliance controls. Both parties consented to the order without admitting or denying the findings.

    Securities SEC Mortgages Settlement Fraud

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  • NYDFS issues policies and procedures reminder to virtual currency companies

    State Issues

    On February 7, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) issued a guidance document reminding virtual currency entities (VC entities) licensed by the state or chartered as limited purpose trust companies that they are required to have policies and procedures in place to guard against fraud, and that they should be particularly vigilant concerning efforts at market manipulation. The guidance requires VC entities to implement written policies that will (i) identify and assess fraud-related areas of risk, including market manipulation; (ii) provide procedures and controls to protect against identified risks; (iii) allocate risk monitoring responsibilities; (iv) periodically evaluate and revise risk monitoring processes to “ensure continuing effectiveness” and “compliance with all applicable laws and regulations; and (v) “provide for the effective investigation of fraud and other wrongdoing.” NYDFS also requires VC entities to submit incident reports detailing any identified wrongdoing, follow-up reports outlining any material developments, measures taken or to be taken concerning the developments, and a statement outlining any changes to the VC entity’s operations to prevent repeat occurrences.

    State Issues NYDFS Fraud Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency Fintech

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  • CFTC reaches spoofing settlements with banks; joint investigation with DOJ leads to civil and criminal charges against traders


    On January 29, three global banks agreed to pay a combined $46.6 million fine to settle civil allegations by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) that their traders engaged in a practice known as spoofing to manipulate futures markets, which involves placing bids or offers with the intent to cancel before execution. While neither admitting nor denying any wrongdoing in connection with the settlements, the banks agreed, among other things, to pay the fines, maintain controls in order to detect and prevent spoofing among traders, and implement new training programs. As part of a larger investigation conducted by the CFTC and the criminal divisions at the DOJ and FBI, the CFTC stated within the same announcement that civil enforcement actions were filed against six individuals for alleged spoofing violations. Additionally, according to a press release issued the same day, the DOJ announced criminal charges against eight individuals who allegedly participated in various deceptive trading practices, including the six traders named in the CFTC’s civil complaints. The DOJ alleged the defendants’ spoofing trades were designed to defraud individuals and entities by artificially depressing or inflating the prices of futures contracts traded on several exchanges.

    Securities DOJ CFTC Enforcement Fraud Settlement

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  • FINRA releases 2018 regulatory and examinations priorities letter


    On January 8, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) published its Annual Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter (2018 Letter), which focused on several broad issues within the securities industry, including improving the examination program to “implement a risk-based framework designed to better align examination resources to the risk profile of [] member firms.” As previously covered in InfoBytes, last July FINRA360 (a comprehensive self-evaluation and organizational improvement initiative) prompted the organization to announce plans currently underway to enhance operations by consolidating its existing enforcement teams into a single unit. In the 2018 Letter, FINRA announced ongoing efforts to work with member firms to understand the risks and benefits of fintech innovation such as blockchain technology, as well as the impact initial coin offerings (ICOs) and digital currencies have on broker-dealers.

    Additional areas of regulatory and examination focus for FINRA in 2018 will include: (i) fraudulent activities and suspicious activity report filing requirements; (ii) business continuity planning; (iii) protection and verification of customer assets, including whether firms have implemented adequate controls and supervision methods along with measuring the effectiveness of cybersecurity programs; (iv) anti-money laundering monitoring and surveillance resources and policies and procedures; and (v) the role firms and other registered representatives play when effecting transactions in cryptocurrencies and ICOs—specifically with regard to the supervisory, compliance and operational infrastructure firms implement to “ensure compliance with relevant federal securities laws and regulations and FINRA rules.”

    Securities Fintech FINRA Examination Fraud Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Anti-Money Laundering Initial Coin Offerings Virtual Currency SARs Blockchain Financial Crimes

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  • SEC Chairman Discusses Corporate Governance, States Enhanced Transparency Can Help Prevent Fraud, and Reveals First-Ever National Database of Barred Brokers and Advisors


    On November 8, the Chairman of the SEC, Jay Clayton, spoke before the Practising Law Institute’s annual institute on securities regulation to discuss the role of corporate governance and how enhanced transparency can help prevent fraud. Clayton stated that the SEC would be streamlining and shortening its near-term agenda in an effort to increase transparency and accountability, and that the SEC also would apply this approach to its longer-term strategic plans as well.

    Clayton also commented on approaches to mitigate “misconduct” before an enforcement action would be required. Specifically, Clayton noted, “[l]ooking back at enforcement actions, a common theme emerges – where opacity exists, bad behavior tends to follow.” Clayton highlighted the following areas in which opacity may exist: (i) disclosures involving “hidden or inappropriate fees”; (ii) poor recordkeeping and lack of reliable information related to penny stocks; (iii) transaction processing related to unregistered securities; (iv) online platforms that manage initial coin offerings (ICOs); and (v) investor education.

    Concerning ICOs, Clayton commented that because “[t]here is a distinct lack of information about many online platforms that list and trade virtual coins or tokens offered and sold in . . . ICOs . . ., [t]rading of tokens on these platforms is susceptible to price manipulation and other fraudulent trading practices.” The SEC proposed enhanced clarity when listing tokens on these types of platforms, assigning value to tokens, and examining measures designed to protect investors and market integrity.

    Clayton further revealed that the SEC was creating a website that would publish, among other things, a searchable database of those individuals who have been barred or suspended as a result of federal securities law violations.  Clayton noted that this database would be “intended to make the prior actions of repeat offenders and fraudsters more visible to investors” and could be “particularly valuable when bad actors have shifted from the registered space for investment advisers and broker-dealers to the unregistered space.”

    Securities Initial Coin Offerings SEC Fraud

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  • FinCEN Warns of Fraudulent Disaster Relief Schemes

    Financial Crimes

    On October 31, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory to financial institutions to warn of the potential for fraudulent activity related to recent disaster relief efforts. The advisory cautions financial institutions to pay particularly close attention to benefits fraud, charities fraud, and cyber-related fraud. Accordingly, it lists several red flags to assist in spotting these fraudulent schemes, including, among others:

    • The cashing or depositing of multiple emergency assistance checks by the same individual;
    • The payee organization having a name similar to, but not identical to, a well-known or reputable charity; or
    • The use of money transfer services to receive donations.

    The advisory also reminds financial institutions to file a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) if there is reason to believe any fraudulent activity may be taking place.

    Find more InfoBytes disaster relief coverage here.

    Financial Crimes Disaster Relief FinCEN Fraud SARs

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  • Alabama AG Announces Permanent Injunction Against Credit Repair Company

    State Issues

    On October 30, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced that a state court granted a permanent injunction against a credit repair company and its owner/operators for allegedly engaging in deceptive and illegal credit repair practices. According to the Office of the Attorney General, defendants allegedly (i) used deceptive advertising that guaranteed improved credit scores and made various false promises; (ii) charged consumers before services were completed or charged rates different from those that were advertised; (iii) failed to allow consumers to cancel the service within three days as required by federal law governing credit repair businesses; and (iv) indiscriminately disputed negative credit report items--a practice known as “jamming”—to create the illusion of improved credit and a temporary rise in credit score. The order permanently closes the company, bans the defendants from engaging in any credit repair or consumer finance activity, and prohibits defendants from owning or managing any business in Alabama or involving Alabama consumers.

    State Issues State Attorney General Consumer Finance Credit Scores Fraud

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  • FTC Settles Suit Against Credit Score Site Schemers


    On October 26, the FTC agreed to a settlement of $760,000 with two affiliate marketers of a credit score business who allegedly committed deceptive acts to lure consumers into signing up for their monthly credit monitoring service for $30.00.

    The settlement partly resolves a suit the FTC filed in January against the credit score company, the owner, and the company’s affiliate marketers. The FTC alleged that the defendants posted fake rental ads on Craigslist and required persons responding to the ads to obtain a purportedly “free” credit report from the company’s websites before viewing the property. The defendants, however, used the credit or debit card information consumers entered to obtain the credit report and enrolled consumers for a negative option credit monitoring service with a $30.00 monthly fee.

    The order suspended the balance of the total $6.8 million judgment on the condition that the affiliate marketers pay the FTC the settled amounts. The claims against the company and the owner are ongoing.

    Courts Consumer Finance FTC Fraud Settlement Litigation

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  • Former Guatemalan Soccer Executive and Judge Sentenced in Investigation

    Financial Crimes

    On October 25, Judge Chen of the U.S. District Court for the E.D.N.Y. sentenced the former general secretary of Guatemala’s soccer federation and a former judge to eight months in prison and ordered restitution of $415,000 and forfeiture of $175,000. His sentence comes after a guilty plea to wire fraud and conspiracy in June 2017. He was arrested in 2015 as part of the U.S. government’s investigation into corruption in a soccer association. His sentencing marks the first individual sentenced among a group of more than 40 individuals who have been indicted or pleaded guilty since 2015.

    This sentencing comes as part of the U.S. government’s ongoing investigation into corruption in international soccer which has been ongoing. Previous FCPA Scorecard coverage of the investigation can be found here.

    Financial Crimes Anti-Corruption Fraud

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