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  • Second Circuit Ruling May Expose Debt Collection Law Firms to Increased FDCPA Claims

    Courts

    On November 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a Southern District of New York dismissal of a lawsuit against a debt collection law firm regarding actions taken during state court collection proceedings. Concluding that the plaintiff had stated a claim against the law firm under two sections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a three-judge panel vacated the dismissal and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its decision.

    The appeal stems from the law firm’s actions in attempting to collect on a default judgment entered against the plaintiff. After receiving a restraining notice from the law firm, the plaintiff’s bank placed a restraint on his checking account and the law firm told plaintiff that, unless he made a payment, he would have to get a court order to lift the restraint. The plaintiff sought such an order on the grounds that all the money in his checking account was Social Security Retirement Income (SSRI) and, therefore, exempt from restraint. The plaintiff claimed that the law firm’s objection to his request contained false statements in violation of the FDCPA and New York law because the plaintiff had earlier provided the law firm with documents supporting his exemption claim.

    In finding the complaint states a claim under FDCPA section 1692e, the Court rejected, among other arguments made by the law firm, the notion that FDCPA liability cannot be imposed based on conduct in litigation; the opinion contrasts bankruptcy court proceedings—where the Second Circuit has found the filing of false statements of claim does not violate the FDCPA—with those of state courts, “where . . . the consumer, often unfamiliar with the law governing garnishment of bank accounts, has the benefit of neither counsel nor a bankruptcy trustee.” The Court also held that “a debt collector engages in unfair or unconscionable litigation conduct in violation of [FDCPA] section 1692f when . . . it in bad faith unduly prolongs legal proceedings or requires a consumer to appear at an unnecessary hearing.”

    Courts Appellate FDCPA Second Circuit Debt Collection

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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 of Columbia Adopts Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights

    Lending

    On October 11, the District of Columbia (DC) released a student loan borrower bill of rights (Bill) pursuant to the Student Loan Ombudsman Establishment and Servicing Regulation Amendment Act of 2016. The Bill sets out basic principles and protections for student loan borrowers, covering:

    • Pricing and Terms. Lenders to comply with TILA; specifically, to focus on clear and plain-English disclosures of the APR and other key pricing terms.
    • Loan Products. Lenders should avoid extending abusive loan products to borrowers; including, not extending new credit to borrowers who are unable to repay existing loans.
    • Underwriting. Lenders should exercise fair and responsible underwriting; including offering loans that are affordable and meet the borrower’s needs. It also encourages lenders to engage in responsible credit reporting.
    • Collection Activities. Lenders and servicers to abide by the spirit of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, as well as, maintain accurate and complete information about borrowers’ loans.
    • Customer Service. Servicers should have responsible complaint management, be easily accessible, and avoid discrimination of any protected borrower classification.

    The Bill became effective on September 8.

    Lending Student Lending TILA Regulation Z FDCPA

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  • CFPB Publishes Mortgage Servicing Small Entity Compliance Guide and Executive Summary

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On October 19, the CFPB released version 3.0 of its mortgage servicing Small Entity Compliance Guide. The updated guide supports implementation of amendments to the Bureau’s mortgage servicing interim final rule issued October 4, which provides servicers, who are subject to a cease in communication request, a 10-day window to provide modified early intervention notices at the end of the 180-day period. The interim final rule takes effect October 19, at the same time the broader amendments to the early intervention requirements take effect. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) An updated Executive Summary, which highlights key changes to provisions of the 2016 Mortgage Servicing Rule, the 2016 FDCPA Interpretive Rule, and the October 2017 interim final rule has also been released.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Mortgage Servicing FDCPA

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  • CFPB Issues Interim Final Rule Regarding Foreclosure Communications; Seeks Comment on Proposed Rule About Periodic Statements During Bankruptcy

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On October 4, the CFPB announced one change and one proposed change to the amendments to its mortgage servicing rules under Regulations X and Z. These amendments, which were previously covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert, are scheduled to take effect in two phases on October 19, 2017 and April 19, 2018.

    First, the CFPB amended the amendments to Regulation X’s provision regarding early intervention notices in order to address timing issues that result when a borrower has invoked his or her cease in communication rights under the FDCPA. Had the most recent amendment not been made, a mortgage servicer subject to a cease in communication request would have been required to provide a modified early intervention notice to the borrower every 180 days but not more than once during any 180-day period, leaving no margin for error and creating operational challenges if the 180th day fell on a weekend or holiday. Based on concerns from the mortgage industry the CFPB issued an interim final rule without advance public comment to give servicers a 10-day window to provide the modified notices at the end of the 180-day period. The interim final rule becomes effective on October 19, 2017, at the same time the broader amendments to the early intervention requirements take effect.

    Second, the CFPB proposed to update technical aspects of the upcoming periodic statement requirements for borrowers in bankruptcy. Specifically, the CFPB is seeking public comment on changes to the transition rules for borrowers who enter or leave bankruptcy, including replacing the single-billing-cycle exemption with a single-statement exemption for the next periodic statement the servicer would have to provide regardless of when in the billing cycle a triggering event occurs. The Bureau proposed that these amendments take effect on April 19, 2018, at the same time as the new periodic statement requirements for borrowers in bankruptcy. 

    The comment period on both the interview final rule and the proposed rule will close 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Mortgages FDCPA Regulation Z Regulation X Mortgage Servicing Federal Register

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  • Eleventh Circuit Holds a Debt Collector’s Voicemail Qualifies as a “Communication” Under FDCPA

    Courts

    On September 22, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, while affirming in part, a lower court’s decision concerning whether a voicemail left by a debt collector constitutes a “communication” and how “meaningful disclosure” should be interpreted under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The panel answered the first issue by noting that the FDCPA’s definition of “communication” includes “the conveying of information regarding a debt [either] directly or indirectly to any person through any medium.” Therefore, the panel opined, under the statutory language, the only requirement for the voicemail to qualify as a communication was that it convey to the consumer that the call concerned a debt—which it did. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the claim under section 1692e of the FDCPA and remanded for further proceedings consistent with their findings.

    However, the panel agreed with the lower court’s interpretation of “meaningful disclosure” under section 1692d of the FDCPA—which protects consumers from “harassment and abuse” by prohibiting debt collectors from “placing telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity.” Specifically, the panel held that a debt collector need only provide the name of the company and the nature of its debt collection business on the call. The statute does not require disclosure of the individual employee’s name as this additional information would not be useful to a consumer. Consequently, the appellate court upheld the district court’s decision to dismiss the claim under section 1692d.

    Courts FDCPA Appellate Eleventh Circuit Debt Collection Litigation

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  • NYDFS Announces Settlement to Provide Restitution and Loan Forgiveness to Consumers Affected by Payday Lending Practices

    Consumer Finance

    On September 25, New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) Superintendent Maria T. Vullo announced the Department had entered into a consent order with a payday loan debt collector and payday loan servicer (together, “defendants”) for allegedly collecting on illegal payday loans made to New York consumers between 2011 to 2014. Payday lending, according to NYDFS’ press release, is illegal in the state, and debt collectors who “collect or attempt to collect outstanding payments from New Yorkers on payday loans violate debt collection laws.” The consent order notes that in 2013, NYDFS circulated a guidance letter to all debt collectors operating in the state to remind them that usurious loans made by non-bank lenders with interest rates exceeding the statutory maximum—and the attempts to collect debts on these types of loans—are “void and unenforceable and violate state and federal law.” However, one of the defendants continued to collect on payday loans for more than a year. The alleged actions, NYDFS asserted, are violations of the Fair Debt Collection Procedures Act, New York Debt Collection Procedures Law, and New York General Business Law.

    Pursuant to the consent order, which includes a notice letter to be sent to affected consumers, the debt collector defendant must comply with the following: (i) cease all collection on payday loans in New York; (ii) release and discharge more than $11.8 million in outstanding applicable payday loan debts; (iii) move to vacate any judgments obtained on payday loan accounts; and (iv) “[r]elease any pending garnishments, levies, liens, restraining notices, or attachments relating to any judgments on New Yorkers’ payday loan accounts.” The loan servicer defendant must close any pending accounts in the state and cease communications with consumers regarding their accounts.

    Consumer Finance State Issues NYDFS Enforcement Settlement Payday Lending Debt Collection FDCPA

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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 Enters Consent Order with Final Defendant in Alleged 2015 Debt Collection Scheme

    Consumer Finance

    On August 30, the FTC announced a settlement banning the final defendant who had participated in a debt collection scheme from debt collection activities. The settlement stems from a 2015 action against three groups of defendants who allegedly violated the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by engaging in the following activities, among others: (i) attempting to collect debts consumers claimed they did not owe; (ii) impersonating law enforcement to threaten non-compliant consumers with arrests and lawsuits; (iii) harassing friends, family members, and employees in an attempt to collect debts; and (iv) failing to identify themselves as debt collectors. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) In 2016, the FTC reached separate settlements (here and here) against two of the three groups of debt collectors. In addition to banning the final defendant from debt collection activities, the 2017 action also imposes a $9.39 million judgment to be suspended due to the defendant’s inability to pay. However, the judgment will become immediately due if the defendant is found to have misstated his financial condition.

    Consumer Finance Debt Collection FTC Enforcement UDAAP FDCPA FTC Act

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  • FTC Files Complaint Against Debt Collection Operation for FTC Act and FDCPA Violations

    Consumer Finance

    On August 29, the FTC issued a press release announcing charges against a North Carolina-based debt collection business (defendants) for allegedly using 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. According to the complaint, the defendants violated the FTC Act by making false, unsubstantiated, or misleading representations regarding debt owed on payday loans or other debts and threatening legal action. Additionally, the defendants allegedly violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by: (i) communicating with consumers “at times or places known or which should be known to be inconvenient to the consumer” or “at the consumer’s place of employment when Defendants knew or had reason to know that the consumer’s employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communications”; (ii) engaging in “unlawful third-party communications” without obtaining prior consumer consent; (iii) participating in harassing and abusive collection practices; (iv) making false, deceptive, or misleading representations, including by withholding the true status of the debt, impersonating attorneys, threatening legal action, and failing to disclose they were debt collectors; and (v) failing to provide consumers written verification of their debt within the required time frame. A federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina has temporarily restrained and enjoined the defendants’ alleged illegal practices and frozen their assets.

    Consumer Finance Debt Collection FTC Enforcement UDAAP FDCPA FTC Act

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