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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 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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  • CFPB announces settlement with Alabama-based operation for allegedly failing to properly disclose finance charges

    Consumer Finance

    On July 19, the CFPB announced a settlement with a small-dollar lending operation that allegedly failed to properly disclose finance charges and annual percentage rates associated with auto title loans in violation of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the prohibition on deceptive practices in the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). According to the consent order, the Alabama-based operation, which owned and operated approximately 100 retail lending outlets in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina under several names, materially misrepresented the finance charges consumers would incur for Mississippi auto title loans by disclosing a finance charge based on a 30-day term while having consumers sign a 10-month payment schedule. The Bureau asserts that “[c]onsumers acting reasonably likely would not understand that the finance charge disclosed in the loan agreement does not actually correspond to their loan payment term.” Furthermore, the Bureau contends that the operation also failed to disclose the annual percentage rate on in-store advertisements as required under TILA. The order requires the operation to pay redress in the amount of $1,522,298, which represents the total undisclosed finance charges made directly or indirectly by affected consumers on their loans. However, based on defendants’ inability to pay this amount, full payment is suspended subject to the operation’s paying $500,000 to affected consumers. In addition to the penalties, the operation is prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior and the operation’s board must ensure full compliance with the consent order.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Settlement CFPA TILA Auto Finance Disclosures

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  • CFPB settles with Kansas-based company and part-owner for debt collection violations

    Consumer Finance

    On July 13, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Kansas-based company and its former CEO and part-owner for using a network of debt collection agencies (the Agencies) that allegedly engaged in improper debt collection tactics in violation of the prohibitions in the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) on engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices (UDAAPs) and on providing substantial assistance to others engaging in such practices. The Bureau also alleged that the company, acting through the Agencies, violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). According to the consent order, the Kansas-based company and its part-owner had “knowledge or a reckless disregard” of the illegal debt collection tactics used by the Agencies, including misrepresenting the amount the consumer actually owed and falsely threatening consumers and their families with lawsuits. In its findings and conclusions, the CFPB alleges that, after reviewing the Agencies’ practices, the company’s “compliance personnel recommended terminating the Agencies because of the Agencies’ illegal collection acts and practices, but [the company and its part-owner] continued placing accounts with the Agencies” and selling debts to one of the Agencies. In addition, the Bureau alleges the company and its part-owner provided operational assistance to the Agencies, such as (i) drafting and implementing policies and procedures that falsely implied compliance with federal laws; (ii) defending the Agencies’ practices when original creditors raised concerns about collection tactics; and (iii) preventing compliance personnel from conducting effective reviews of the Agencies. The order imposes a civil money penalty judgment of $3 million against the Kansas-based company and $3 million against the part-owner but the full payment is suspended subject to the company paying a $500,000 penalty and the part-owner paying a $300,000 penalty. In addition to the penalties, the company is prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior and must create and submit to the Bureau a comprehensive compliance plan, while the part-owner is permanently restrained from acting as an officer, director, employee, agent or advisor of, or otherwise providing management, advice, direction or consultation to, any individual or business that collects, buys, or sells consumer debt. 

    Consumer Finance CFPB Settlement Enforcement

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  • FTC and New York Attorney General announce action against phantom debt operation

    Consumer Finance

    On June 27, the FTC and the New York Attorney General’s Office announced charges against two New York-based phantom debt operations and their principals. The complaint alleges they ran a deceptive and abusive debt collection scheme involving the marketing and selling of fictitious loan debt portfolios and collecting on debts consumers did not owe. The charges brought against the operations allege violations of the FTC Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and New York state law. According to the complaint, the debt broker knowingly purchased fabricated debt from a phantom debt collection operation previously charged by the FTC and the Illinois Attorney General in a separate action for selling fabricated debt. (As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Illinois-based operation was banned from the debt collection business and prohibited from selling debt portfolios.) The debt broker then engaged a debt collection agency and its owner to collect on the fabricated debt using illegal collection tactics, while continuing to purchase debts and place them for collection despite having knowledge that consumers disputed the debts. The complaint seeks, among other things, injunctive relief, restitution, and disgorgement.

    Consumer Finance FTC State Attorney General Debt Collection Debt Buyer FTC Act FDCPA State Issues

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  • FTC settles with North Carolina-based debt collection business and its principals

    Consumer Finance

    On June 4, the FTC announced settlements with a North Carolina-based debt collection business and its principals resolving allegations that the business violated the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by making false, unsubstantiated, or misleading representations regarding debt owed on payday loans or other debts and threatening legal action. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the business allegedly used 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. The terms of the settlement call for a $2.7 million judgment against the business and one of the principals, as well as a $1.8 million judgment against the remaining principal, with all parties jointly and severally liable for approximately $1.6 million. The judgments will be partially suspended after defendants surrender certain assets. The settlements also prohibit all defendants from debt collection activities as well as from buying or selling debt in the future.

    Consumer Finance Debt Collection FTC Act Enforcement Settlement

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  • CFPB releases complaint snapshot on debt collection

    Consumer Finance

    On May 31, the CFPB released a complaint snapshot on debt collection, which provides a high-level overview of trends from all consumer complaints and additional details related to debt collection complaints. The CFPB reports that it has received approximately 1,492,600 total complaints as of April 1, and that “credit or consumer reporting” was the most-complained-about category in March 2018. As for debt collection, the Bureau received approximately 400,500 debt collection complaints since July 21, 2011, 27 percent of the total number of complaints. The report also highlights common themes among debt collection complaints, including (i) debts being listed on credit reports without prior written notice of the existence of the debt; (ii) debt collection companies not responding to requests for additional information; and (iii) various communication tactics used by debt collection companies, including frequent and repeated calls, calls before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m., and calls after requests for no further telephone contact.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Consumer Complaints Debt Collection

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  • OCC encourages banks to offer short-term, small-dollar installment lending

    Consumer Finance

    On May 23, the OCC released Bulletin 2018-14, which encourages banks to meet the credit needs of consumers by offering short-term, small-dollar installment loans subject to the OCC’s core lending principles. The Bulletin acknowledges the CFPB’s final rule on Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-cost Installment Loans (Payday Rule) – which generally covers loans with maturities shorter than 45 days or longer-term loans with balloon payments – and states the OCC intends on working with the Bureau to ensure banks can “can responsibly engage in consumer lending, including lending products covered by the Payday Rule.”

    Specifically, the Bulletin encourages banks to offer loans without balloon payments and with maturities greater than 45 days subject to three core lending principles: (i) the product should be consistent with safe and sound banking, treat customers fairly, and comply with all applicable laws and regulations; (ii) banks should effectively manage risks associated with the product; and (iii) the product should be underwritten based on reasonable policies and practices, such as amount and repayment terms aligning with eligibility, use internal and external data sources to assess a consumer’s creditworthiness, and loan servicing processes that assist distressed borrowers. Additionally, with regard to pricing, the Bulletin stated that the “OCC views unfavorably an entity that partners with a bank with the sole goal of evading a lower interest rate established under the law of the entity’s licensing state(s).”

    Immediately after the OCC’s release, the CFPB issued a statement applauding the Bulletin because “[m]illions of Americans desperately need access to short-term, small-dollar credit.” In January, the CFPB stated it plans to reconsider the Payday Rule and the Spring 2018 rulemaking agenda indicates the Bureau expects a notice of proposed rulemaking to be issued by February 2019 (previously covered by InfoBytes here and here).

    Consumer Finance Payday Lending Installment Loans OCC CFPB Payday Rule

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  • Arizona prohibits gift card fees and certain expiration dates

    Consumer Finance

    On April 17, the Arizona governor signed SB 1264, which prohibits the issuance or sale of gift cards in Arizona that are subject to fees or certain expiration dates. Arizona previously allowed gift cards to be subject to an expiration date, a fee, or both as long as the relevant information was clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the consumer before the purchase was made. SB 1264 prohibits gift cards from begin subject to a fee and prohibits the underlying money on a gift card from being subject to an expiration date. The law allows an expiration date with respect to the card, code, or device associated with a gift card, only if the gift card contains a clear and conspicuous disclosure that the underlying monies associated with the card do not expire and the consumer may obtain a replacement. The prohibition on gift card fees and expiration dates does not apply to (i) gift cards that are sold below face value or donated to nonprofit or charitable organizations; (ii) gift cards distributed pursuant to an awards, loyalty, or promotion program when the consumer has given no money or other property in exchange for the card; and (iii) cards for prepaid telecommunications services, electronic funds transfer cards, bank-issued debit or general purpose reloadable prepaid cards not marketed or labeled as gift cards or gift certificates. The law becomes effective 91 days after the end of the legislative session.

    Consumer Finance Gift Cards Fees State Legislation

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  • FTC and Florida Attorney General settle with debt relief scammers

    Consumer Finance

    On April 12, the FTC and the Florida Attorney General announced an $85 million settlement with three individuals who allegedly sold fake debt relief services. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May 2017, the FTC and the Florida Attorney General filed a complaint against the individuals for allegedly violating the FTC Act, the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. According to the complaint, consumers, after collectively paying hundreds or thousands of dollars a month for promised debt-consolidation services marketed by the individuals, discovered their debts were unpaid, their accounts had defaulted, and their credit scores damaged. Under the proposed orders (here and here), all three marketers are restrained and enjoined from “advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, selling” credit repair products and services, debt relief products and services, and financial products and services. The $85 million judgment is held jointly and severally against each of the individuals with a suspended judgment for two if all material assets are surrendered. The judgment for the third individual, considered the ringleader of the operation, is not suspended and the individual is still required to surrender all material assets.

    Consumer Finance Federal Issues State Issues State Attorney General FDCPA Debt Collection FTC

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