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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 Takes Action Against Debt Relief Companies for Allegedly Violating the TSR and Claiming to be Affiliated With the Federal Government

    Consumer Finance

    On October 12, the CFPB announced the filing of a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland against two companies, their service provider, and their owners (defendants) for allegedly misleading consumers about their debt validation program. According to the complaint, the defendants allegedly engaged in abusive and deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Consumer Financial Protection Act by purportedly (i) charging advance fees for debt-relief services before altering the terms of the consumers’ debts or achieving promised results; (ii) misrepresenting the abilities of their debt-relief and credit-repair services; (iii) failing to disclose to consumer that if they stopped making payments on debts enrolled in the service they may be subject to collections or lawsuits from creditors that could increase the overall amount of money owed due to fees and interest; and (iv) misrepresenting an affiliation, endorsement, or sponsorship with the federal government by using direct mailers designed to look like an official government notice.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Debt Relief Enforcement CFPA Telemarketing Sales Rule UDAAP

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  • Massachusetts AG Takes Action Against Auto Dealer for Deceptive Marketing and Sales Tactics

    Lending

    On September 26, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced a lawsuit against a large auto dealership and its in-house lender for allegedly misleading consumers into purchasing unfavorable sale packages. According to the Commonwealth’s complaint, filed in the Suffolk County Superior Court, the auto dealer purportedly (i) sold consumers cars priced at more than double their retail value; (ii) extended loans to consumers with an APR of 20 percent, regardless of credit qualifications; and (iii) combined these sales with an expensive and limited service contract. The complaint further alleges that because of these sales practices and a faulty underwriting process, more than half of the auto dealer’s sales fail or end in repossession. The complaint seeks injunctive relief, restitution, civil penalties, and attorney fees.

    Lending State AG UDAAP Auto Finance Enforcement Anti-Predatory Lending

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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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  • CFPB Files Complaint Against Company that Allegedly Made False Loan Offers

    Consumer Finance

    On September 19, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against a New Jersey-based company and two associated individuals (defendants) that allegedly offered loans to consumers who were awaiting payouts from legal settlements or statutory- or victim-compensation funds. According to the complaint, the company engaged in deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act by purportedly representing itself as a direct lender, when in actuality it did not provide loans to consumers, but instead brokered transactions while charging a commission for the service. Among other things, the defendants allegedly (i) misrepresented the annual percentage rates (APR) on the advances given to consumers, often representing that interest rates were as small as one to two percent when the actual APR was much higher; (ii) falsely claimed that it had offices in all 50 states and employed a staff of accounting, financial, and legal professionals; and (iii) misled consumers by stating in their marketing materials that consumers could receive loan proceeds within one hour, when the process took longer.

    According to the proposed final judgment and order, which must be approved by the district court, the defendants shall be banned from offering these types of loans or advances to consumers in the future. In addition, the company and the owner—who was responsible for decision-making and operations—are jointly liable for a $60,000 civil money penalty to the CFPB. The second individual—who was responsible for recruiting consumers through marketing materials and websites—must pay a $10,000 civil money penalty to the CFPB. The Bureau noted in the announcement that the low penalties take into account the defendants’ inability to pay greater amounts.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement Lending UDAAP CFPA

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  • CFPB UDAAP Claim in Structured Settlement Factoring Case Moves Forward

    Courts

    On September 13, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland allowed a UDAAP claim brought by the CFPB to move forward in which the defendants allegedly employed abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. The court also dismissed several UDAAP claims related to an attorney acting as a financial advisor in the transactions. The 2016 complaint alleged that defendants violated the Maryland Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) by encouraging consumers to take advances on their structured settlements and falsely representing that the consumers were obligated to complete the structured settlement sale, “even if they [later] realized it was not in their best interest.” According to the complaint, many of the consumers “’did not understand the risks or conditions of the advances, including that the advances did not bind them to complete the transactions.” The CFPB also alleged several counts based on the conduct of an attorney acting as a financial advisor for the transactions, who allegedly provided “virtually no advice,” and whose services were arranged and directly paid by the structured settlement buyer.

    In the order and memorandum, the court rejected several of the defendants’ arguments to dismiss based on procedural grounds and allowed the CFPB’s UDAAP claim against the structured settlement buyer and its officers to proceed. However, the court dismissed the claims related to the financial advisor, finding that he satisfied the requirements for an exemption under the CFPA for attorneys engaged in the practice of law.

    Courts CFPB UDAAP Litigation Structured Settlement CFPA

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  • District Judge Issues Order Against Bi-Weekly Payment Company, Denies Restitution Sought by CFPB

    Courts

    On September 8, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an opinion and order against a company after a seven-day bench trial, finding that the company misrepresented its bi-weekly payment program in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in 2015 against the company, its wholly owned subsidiary, and the company’s founder, alleging that the company’s false and misleading marketing practices were abusive and deceptive when it minimized the existence or amount of the program’s setup fee, misled borrowers on the amount of actual savings, and created the impression that the company was affiliated with the lender. The payment program allowed the defendants to contract with borrowers to make their mortgage, credit card, or other loan payments for them. The program automatically debited their accounts every two weeks in an amount equal to one-half of the monthly payment on the loan. This resulted in 26 payments per year, with the extra payments going towards paying down the principal on the loan. The judge granted the $7.9 million civil penalty proposed by the CFPB but denied the restitution of almost $74 million that the CFPB had sought—a full refund of all setup fees—because it found that “the CFPB has not proved that defendants engaged in the type of fraud commonly connoted by the well-worn phrase ‘snake oil salesmen,’” and specifically had “not shown, and could not show, that the [payment] program never provid[ed] a benefit to consumers, or that no fully-informed consumer would ever elect to pay to participate in the program.” The court found that further injunctive relief is warranted but directed the parties to meet and confer to determine the specific terms of the relief. The court noted that the CFPB had only sought civil penalties under the “basic tier” of the CFPA’s civil penalties provision and speculated that the CFPB did not propose higher penalties because it also expected to obtain a large amount of restitution. Nevertheless, the court found that higher penalties for reckless or knowing violations were not warranted because the defendants had taken “affirmative steps such as training, quality control, and seeking legal counsel, in an effort to stay on the right side of the line.”

    Courts CFPB Payment Processors UDAAP Settlement

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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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  • District Court Dismisses CFPB Lawsuit Against Payment Processors, Cites “Blatant Disregard” for Discovery Order

    Courts

    On August 25, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia filed an order dismissing claims brought by the CFPB against four payment processors for allegedly engaging in an illegal robocall phantom debt collection operation involving certain payment processors and a telephone broadcast service provider (defendants). (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to a complaint filed in 2015, the defendants “knew, or should have known” that the debt collectors were contacting millions of consumers in an attempt to collect debt that consumers did not owe or that the collectors were not authorized to collect by using threats, intimidation, and deceptive techniques in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

    According to the order, however, the CFPB displayed a “blatant disregard” for the court’s instructions when asked repeatedly to identify the factual bases for its claims, and willfully failed to present a knowledgeable 30(b)(6) witness during depositions. As examples of “willful disregard,” the court noted that the CFPB’s approach was to first “bury the Defendants in so much information that [they] cannot possibly identify, with any reasonable particularity, what supports the CFPB’s claims,” and second, to “assert privilege objections to questions that the Court … repeatedly ordered to be answered.” The court also indicated that Bureau witnesses relied on “memory aids”—which the court characterized as “scripts”—to provide answers to the defendants’ questions and were unable to testify beyond what was stated on the memory aids. This behavior made the court “not optimistic that reopening the depositions would be fruitful.” As a result, the court dismissed the defendants from the action, granting sanctions under Rule 37, which permits “a district court [to] impose sanctions upon a party for failure to comply with a discovery order,” which may include striking pleadings in whole or in part.

    Courts Payment Processors CFPB CFPA FDCPA UDAAP

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